Robert Stott Shoemaker, who played football and rugby at Cal in the early 1940s and flew P-38 fighter planes in Europe during World War II, has died in the South Bay after a bout with pneumonia.
At 99 years old, Shoemaker was among the oldest former Cal football players before his passing on Saturday.
“I remember him saying he played in the Big Game in ’41 where he was really excited. They beat Frankie Albert,” his son, Stephen Shoemaker, said, referring to the Bears’ 16-0 upset victory over Stanford and its All-America quarterback.
Stephen Shoemaker said his father played center, but wasn’t sure how much game action he saw. Robert Shoemaker is not included on Cal’s all-time roster, but that list includes only varsity letter winners.
Hans "Lefty" Stern, historian for the Pappy's Boys alumni player group, confirmed Shoemaker was a center on the Bears' 1941 and '42 teams. He said it's possible there are one or two 100-year-old ex-Bears.
Shoemaker also played rugby at Cal. “That totally fits with his personality — no helmets, no pads,” Stephen Shoemaker said. “He always was of the mind that the tougher it was, the more he liked it. It didn’t matter if he got beat up or bloodied. He just liked a good fight.”
That included during World War II, where Shoemaker rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. In Europe, he named his plane “Frantic Frannie,” after his wife Frances, whom he met on a blind date at Cal and married shortly before enlisting.
Flying a P-38, which could reach speeds of 400 mph, Shoemaker shot down a German Messerschmitt during an aerial dogfight, which his son says earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross medal.
Shoemaker had other memorable episodes in the air above Europe. After losing an engine, he piloted his craft 2 1/2 hours back to England. Another time, after having his hydraulics shot up by an anti-aircraft gun, he “belly-landed” in a muddy cabbage field in France, his son recalled.
His most famous assignment, however, involved flying cover for the Normandy Invasion. “I remember looking down and being amazed by how many ships and boats were down there in the ocean. Where did these all come from?” Stephen Shoemaker recalls his dad saying.
After the war, Shoemaker was commissioned as a captain and returned to the Bay Area to complete his studies in mechanical engineering. Robert and Frances moved to San Jose, where Shoemaker built a career around his Cal degree.
His final work assignment was for the U.S. Department of Defense, where he helped oversee the Bradley Fighting Vehicle project.
Shoemaker finally retired at 75. “He enjoyed working,” his son said.
And he enjoyed playing. As a high school student in San Francisco, he wrestled and boxed. Later he was a high-altitude backpacker, a fisherman, a camper. He was a skier until the age of 82, even after breaking his collarbone in a mishap on the slopes at Squaw Valley when he was 74.
At age 80, Robert Shoemaker, together with Stephen and a friend, spent 17 days in an ultra-light sail boat, trekking from Hawaii to the Bay Area.
“He was a feisty guy,” Stephen Shoemaker said.
He remained a sports fan, occasionally taking his kids to Cal games, while also watching the 49ers, the Army-Navy game and the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team.
Shoemaker was hoping to make it to 100 next March 28, but his son allowed, “He had a fantastic life.”
Robert and Frances Shoemaker were married for nearly 65 years before her death in 2008. Shoemaker is survived by three children, Stephen, Roberta and James, along with four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
The family plans a private service.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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