Alabama Hero Buried At Arlington National Cemetery

Retired Admiral Tazewell Shepard Junior died on June 21st in Huntsville.  He was 92 years old and will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday, October 8.

His son Tazewell Shepard III is a Huntsville attorney, and it doesn’t take long to know that Taze the son, thinks of his dad as somebody pretty special.

It’s for good reason. Taze the Admiral was not just a witness to crucial events, he was part of them.

The office of Taze Shepard III is a typical attorney’s office, with assistants, and meeting rooms, but if you happen to glance at the walls, you will be astounded. There are large photos of past presidents: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Truman.  All of them are signed. Those photos and others are part of the legacy of Taze III’s maternal grandfather, former U.S. Senator John Sparkman.

That’s one legacy for Taze III. The other is obviously from his father.  Taze Junior was born in Mobile. As a teenager he intended to go to the University of Alabama, but World War II changed everything. Taze Junior attended the Naval Academy for a time, but was then shipped to the Pacific as a Navy Ensign.

Ensign Shepard served on the U.S.S. San Francisco, a navy cruiser. The ship was part of multiple battles near the island of Guadalcanal, which was the site of fierce fighting with the Japanese. At one point, the San Francisco was hit by a Japanese kamikaze attack.  The suicide plane struck the bridge, and the ship’s Commander and an Admiral were both killed. In that same attack, Taze Shepard Junior earned the Navy Cross for Bravery.  Read some of his handwritten notes from that event.

It’s noteworthy that serving in that same part of the Pacific Theater, was Ensign John Kennedy. He would go on to become the nation’s 35th President.  Career Navy man, Tazewell Shepard Junior would become Kennedy’s Naval Aide.

“Kennedy when he came in, was probably the first president to have a Navy background,” says Taze Shepard III.   Taze thinks the shared military experience helped his dad and the President hit it off.

In more than one photo with President Kennedy, Taze Junior and the President appear to be more than just employer and worker.  They look like friends.

“I was a small child, but I was around them, and saw them together, and they really just seemed to enjoy each other,” says Taze III.

Once again, historic events found Taze Junior. He was part of the staff as President Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Soviet Union had placed offensive missiles on Cuba some 90 miles off the U.S. coast. In October of 1962, President Kennedy demanded that the missiles be removed, and for 13 days America and the Soviet Union squared off, with war a real possibility.

“You sometimes have the perception that the military people want to go fight, but I think everyone was committed to taking a firm stand, but avoid war if possible, because the idea of war, especially nuclear war was so horrible,” says Taze III.

The crisis did end peacefully.  But in 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Commander Shepard was on duty in Washington. He met First Lady Jackie Kennedy as she brought the President’s body back to the Capitol.

“And as he took her hand, she said, don’t be sad Taze, and he was so struck that the widow was comforting him,” says Taze III.  There’s a handwritten note from the First Lady that thanks Taze, “For all you did for the President.”

Taze Shepard Junior would stay in the Navy and retire as a Rear Admiral.  Yes, the military man was part of war, and history, but his son says he never entirely quit being a kid from Mobile.

“He would go back and reminisce about being a boy in Mobile, and swimming in the bay, and stealing figs off his grandparents fig tree in the back yard. He loved life,” says Taze III.

He loved his family, too.  Taze the Huntsville attorney says he knows his father was part of history.  He achieved rank and fame, but at the bottom of it all, he was still just Dad.

“I think of my Dad as someone who history pushed into certain places, he didn’t dream to go. But, once he was there, he did his all, and made us proud,” says Taze Shepard III.

In this case, I think it’s safe to say that Admiral Tazewell Shepard, Jr. made this nation proud.

-Steve Johnson, WHNT News 19

5 comments

  • Charlie Noble

    Getting underway in May 1974 for Europe on my last cruise before commisioning I was broken hearted when we turned the boiler tubes in our 40 year old boiler into spagetti off Labrador. After limping into Boston the young ladies of Scandinavia were so out of reach the whole ship was in a funk. After 6 wk. repairs we were destined to return to classes with nothing to show for the summer of our 21st year.

    Our Admiral cheered us up the next morning at colors when he told us we’d been invited to join the major NATO operation of the summer which would get us at least a few liberty ports outside of the US. He said that the WASP battle group, had invited us to steam with her. RADM Shepard’s flag was in USS Wasp. RADM Shepard was the doorkeeper for Navy access to the Irish power center in the democratic party at the time. We joined USS Wasp in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    The first morning in port I drew CAPT’s Aide as my watch. My Admiral, RADM Rogers, Irish, Catholic, Harvard, Naval Aviator was no stranger to RADM Shepard. I was sent to USS Wasp to invite RADM Shepard to join my boss’ mess for dinner that evening.

    By the time I got to the flag cabin, I had a Marine on each shoulder and there wasn’t anyone in the passageway. I was rubbing my shoes on the calves of my kahkis by the time I got through the second hatch with a Marine on it, even though there was a great shine on them.. The Flag Cabin was definately designed for intimidation, very nice. RADM Shepard was on the phone, and I was at attention. He looked me over, winked at me and pointed to a chair. As a second thought he pointed to a pitcher of water and jerked his eyes and head up quickly making his movement a question; water? My boss never wondered if I was thirsty. When he hung up I went to attention and introduced myself.

    Our ship was famous for the CAPT having 8 pulling oars a coxswain and 2 men “boathooks” for his gig. The first thing RADM Shepard asked me was if the launch with the pulling oars would pick him up? I stated that my influence with admirals was severly limited but the ship was proud of our gig. He laughed and told me to ask my admiral about his participation in buzzing the quarters of a then very important admiral, who never got any names out of anyone. “Son, knowledge in the Navy can be purely accidental, but if you know what to do with it, well, that chip is forever”.

    We both laughed and before I knew it, RADM Shepard had completely made a midshipman feel at ease. After 10 minutes I knew manners dictated that I get out of there and get back to my ship. He was dismissing me with a genuine handshake when he happened to ask me where i was from. I told him Huntsville, AL and he got real interested all of a sudden. He asked me if I had an opinion on Sen. Sparkman. I told him there was an Arsenal in town and Sen Sparkman was responsible for that fact. Somewhere in the next couple of minutes he turned off all his red lights on his phone, ordered us lunch, and we had a pleasant lunch discussing politics, history, the Kennedys, Huntsville and families.
    He laughed the hardest when he was the brunt of a story. Confident men do that easily.

    After he dismissed me, while I was walking towards the door, i heard him telling the OD to hold me at the quartedeck to make sure that I had a boat and a ride back to my ship. He put in a good word for me back on my ship. I never saw RADM Shepard again.

    I spent four difficult years trying to belong to a group of men, in whom, America put their trust. The naval leaders of my youth had made their “bones” as lieutenants during WWII. They spent the rest of their naval careers with a healthy disrespect for authority and placed trust in a man’s reputation in the fleet above all. RADM Shepard was one of the first flag officers outside of the academy enviornment I met.

    Viet Nam was ever present in all of our lives in 1974. Lunch with RADM Shepard helped me separare the wheat from the chaff. He did that well. Don’t go looking for the RADM Shepard mold.This isn’t a “there I was at thirty thousand feet” story, it’s a story of a man, overseas, being nice to a kid from Huntsville in a lonely enviornment, who, oh by the way, was an admiral in the US Navy.

Comments are closed.


Related Stories


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 690 other followers