Fishing conversations with the President: Al Shepherd recalls time in U.S. Army, conversing with President Eisenhower on fishing during Korean War
Veteran’s Day will take a different form this year for everybody in the United States, which includes Korean War veteran Al Shepherd of Craig, Colorado. Shepherd comes from a family of soldiers, with multiple generations of armed forces in his family lineage.
Shepherd was one of many Moffat County veterans who would have various assemblies and conversations with students in the Moffat County school district in previous years. However, this year there will be a drive by parade for the Veterans passing by Sandrock and Sunset Elementary schools.
Shepherd spent most of the Korean War going from place to place in the United States, while serving time mostly in the electronics fields. He was a member of the 16th battalion on the radio relay team at one of his stops, Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista, AZ.
He never did leave the United States during the war, mostly because of the oft-cited but never officially put in place “Sullivan Act” which stopped brothers from the same family from serving in the same unit together. However, if he was able to go, he knew exactly where he wanted to go.
“I wanted to go to Germany but I didn’t get a chance to,” Shepherd said.
Serving in the U.S. Army was a journey that started for Shepherd when he and his childhood friend, Lou Wyman, enrolled at what was then Colorado A&M and is now Colorado State University. As result of their enrolling at Colorado A&M, they had to join the Reserve Training Officer Corps (ROTC). The two friends were so tied at the hip that, “our serial numbers in the service were one apart from each other,” Shepherd said.
Between Shepherd’s junior and senior year, he was upgraded out of the reserves and into active duty. Shepherd was not expecting to be put into the electronics side of active duty, as he was studying the mechanical side in school.
“I am all about the mechanical side,” Shepherd said. “I was studying to be in the industrial side.” He went on to add that he was taking an electronics physics class at A&M, which helped him test well on the entrance exams to find a place to go in the Army.
While he said he wasn’t afraid of the draft, he explained that he did not want to get drafted.
“I already had rank in the reserves, so if I was drafted I would lose that rank,” Shepherd said. “I was a corporal, when I went on active duty.” Along the way he traveled an estimated 3,050 miles from Colorado A&M all the way to his last stop at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Denver.
One of the most unique stops on his journey was his final stop Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center. While working there in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack, which prompted a conversation that Shepherd and President Eisenhower had about fishing in the Yampa River versus where President Eisenhower fished in Fraser, Colorado.
In fact, Shepherd even took a jab at how the President was treated by those in Fraser.
“We talked about fishing,” Shepherd said. “When Eisenhower would be in Colorado, he would go to Fraser, and do fishing up there…He made this statement to me, saying ‘You’re from Craig, that’s the Yampa River. I’ve always wanted to fish the Yampa River.’ I said, ‘you’re always welcome to come over anytime.’ But I said, ‘we’re not going to stock it like they do at Fraser.'”
This conversation with President Eisenhower came after Shepherd stopped at a light avoiding a car accident earlier with President Eisenhower’s limousine, which got a chuckle out of the former President. Unfortunately, Shepherd says that after that one conversation with President Eisenhower, he did not keep in touch with the 34th President.
In keeping with the theme of knowing people in high places, Shepherd recalled a story about being chewed out by a superior officer and the reprimanding stopping when he told the commanding officer that he just had lunch with then Colorado Governor and Moffat County resident Edwin Johnson. Years after that, he was reprimanded by Governor Johnson for neglecting to send him a bill for the Lion’s Club.
In a family of soldiers without regrets, Shepherd says that the only thing he regrets is not taking pictures of the experience. He also says that he was proud to always be in a position of power, assigning people to various different tasks.
Shepherd is one of two brothers to serve in the Korean War, with his brother James having gone over to Korea to fight. This is after their father served in the Marines in World War I.
After the war was over Shepherd helped out his father putting the skills he learned from his college studies as an industrial arts major to work with wood and welding to help in their plumbing and heating store, Shepherd and Sons, which he later ran until selling the business in 2015.
Shepherd has become somewhat of a town celebrity over the years, volunteering his time with the Lion’s Club, the Kiwanis Club, and the Boy Scouts.
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Diego Quezada has spent time working as the varsity soccer coach at Moffat County High School.