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