By Iuliana Petre
Killeen Daily Herald
Of all the things he values, Robert Shoemaker, the former commanding general of III Corps, places education at the top of the list.
In the farm community in Michigan where he was raised, most were only educated as far as the eighth grade level. But, Shoemaker graduated from high school, part of a class of 20 students – seven boys and 13 girls – of which he is the only surviving graduate.
The year was 1941, and Shoemaker was 17 years old.
He took a job working alongside a pharmacist at a drug store and loved it so much he enrolled in a pharmaceutical college.
But, that same year, the Japanese attacked the United States' naval base at Pearl Harbor and Shoemaker, who was one year into his studies, enlisted in the Navy.
There was a program available at the time to help sailors earn commissions if they served one year under an enlistment contract and completed college. Shoemaker signed up for the program.
Then a friend of his asked him to hitchhike to take entry exams for either the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., or the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.
At the exam site, Shoemaker was offered both exams, but the receptionist explained that of the 15 applicants, three applied to the military academy and 12 applied to the naval academy.
Shoemaker decided to take the military academy exam.
On July 1 that year, still on the path to becoming a naval officer, with a rail and meal ticket in hand, Shoemaker was ready to begin school at Marquette University when suddenly he got a call from a congressman telling him that he made the second-highest score on the military academy exam and was guaranteed a slot.
The congressman even promised to help Shoemaker with his Navy discharge, which he did.
Shoemaker graduated from the military academy in 1946, and was commissioned an infantry officer in the Army.
Throughout his Army career, he commanded five different companies, went to flight school as a major, commanded three battalions during three rotations to Vietnam and came to Fort Hood in the summer of 1970, where he served for 7? years in four different jobs: commander of the Operational Test Command, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood and commander of the United States Army Forces Command.
Since his retirement in 1982, Shoemaker has served in the community and actively supports the students enrolled at Shoemaker High School in Killeen.
"I've just got to be there," Shoemaker said of his involvement with the activities of Shoemaker High students.
Shoemaker also supports the educators.
During a teacher orientation day before the start of school in late August, Shoemaker visited with the educators. He introduced himself to each of them and told them how important of a job they have.
In an interview with the Herald last week, he offered advice to educators and community members: Be proud of and celebrate all kids, cheer for the home team, but be proud of them all; do away with unhealthy competition – we don't graduate teams, we graduate individuals, and teams are there to develop good individuals; learn to win gracefully and if you lose, figure out how to get better – it's a lot more fun if you win, but you can't do that all the time.
Contact Iuliana Petre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7469.