Volunteer brings music to veterans’ ears
By Joanne Gonnerman
With her iPod, a compact Bose sound system and her polished flute in hand, Elizabeth “Krickit” Shoemaker is a one- person orchestra. She performs monthly for her favorite audience ó aging veterans residing at the North Carolina State Veterans Home in Salisbury.
Shoemaker, a Kannapolis resident since 1995, has a fondness for veterans.
She is one.
Shoemaker holds the rank of an E-7 Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, the first woman ever in U.S. Naval history to receive the designation as an engineman chief. But before she will talk about that, Shoemaker wants to talk about her concerts for veterans.
“You never know how many guys will be at the concert,” says Shoemaker before one of her monthly concerts. “I might start out with six or seven fellas and before you know it, more have joined us. It all depends on how long their interests or energy lasts.”
During her hour-long concert on this day, Shoemaker plays for more than 20 veterans. Some stay for the entire program, held in the narthex, a welcoming area at the home’s entrance. Others listen from the hall near the receptionist’s desk, and a few travel through the concert area on their way outdoors to enjoy the mild spring weather.
“Applause is difficult to achieve,” says Shoemaker. “Some can’t clap their hands anymore for one reason or another. But they smile and they nod their head and I know they have enjoyed the music.”
Shoemaker’s repertoire includes music from Cole Porter to George Gershwin and songs from hit movies “Alfie” and “The Wizard of Oz.” A trip down memory lane seems obvious with smiles on the veterans’ faces when Shoemaker plays “Misty,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “They Can’t Take That Away.”
“I’ve been on quite a few dance floors in my time,” says E.G. “Gip” Raymer, 90, formerly of Statesville, who requested “Stardust” for an encore. Raymer attends most of Shoemaker’s concerts.
Raymer was a U.S. Army World War II veteran and served in the military from 1941-1945.
“I served four years, five months and four days in the Coast Artillery Radar (division),” says Raymer of his call to duty. “I was part of the third draft.”
Army Air Corp veteran Walter Thomas, who will be 86 in December, also tells of his military service in the South Pacific and the Philippines during World War II.
“I flew over 500 hours as part of the 3rd emergency rescue squadron,” says Thomas. “We’d go in for a rescue after a plane had been blown up out of the sky. The blood in the water told us the guys had become food for the sharks.”
Thomas introduces fellow veteran Willard Busby, who survived the U.S. troop invasion at Omaha Beach.
“He was one of the few who made it,” says Thomas.
Busby, of Besmer City, a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 38th Infantry, Company K, doesn’t talk about his landing on Omaha Beach, except to say it was seven days after D-Day. Most who have any awareness of the horrific bloodshed and loss of life at Omaha Beach understand why Busby doesn’t elaborate.
Asked about his age, Busby says, “I’ll be about 88,” and smiles.
Shoemaker schedules her one-person concerts for other veterans’ homes throughout the United States. She played at four different homes last year on her family’s drive to New Mexico. Already, she is planning her 2008 summer concert schedule for the drive to Missouri.
“I just love playing for the guys,” said Shoemaker. “They appreciate it so much.”
And she is proud of being the U.S. Navy’s first woman Engineman Chief.
“This was such a huge accomplishment,” says Shoemaker. “Women were just starting to make their way (in the Navy). We were a new breed of women coming into the Navy.”
Shoemaker enlisted in 1973 and scored high in the mechanical areas on the Navy’s entrance test. Her recruiter suggested she learn diesel mechanics, and Shoemaker excelled in this nontraditional role for women.
“I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, where I worked on submarines,” says Shoemaker. “I’ve been stationed in Washington, D.C., and have worked on tugboats, and I have been stationed in LaMaddalena, Italy, where I’ve worked on submarine tenders. The Navy has been a great career.”
Shoemaker earned her E-7, chief petty officer rank on Sept. 17, 1983, just 19 years after enlisting. From the beginning, Shoemaker could be found with a screw driver or a wrench in hand working on equipment twice her size. She worked with hydraulic equipment in boats or on heavy equipment in the shop and served as a ship superintendent, the liaison between submarines and repair facilities. This experience laid the way for Shoemaker’s advancements and eventual promotion to engineman chief.
The best way to summarize the honor and prestige of the U.S. Navy E-7 rank and Shoemaker’s success is found in The Chief Petty Officers Creed that Shoemaker proudly shares. Pulling brief statements from the Creed, the gravity of the Navy’s E-7 rank is best communicated through the following words …
“By experience, by performance, and by testing, you have advanced to Chief Petty Officer. In the United States Navy, E-7 carries unique responsibilities. No other armed force throughout the entire world carries the responsibilities nor grants the privileges to its enlisted personnel comparable to the privileges and responsibilities … of a (Naval) Chief Petty Officer.”