Jared A. Shoemaker, Corporal
April 22, 1977-september 4, 2006
The Victor-5 team was running through the streets of Fallujah, looking for a trigger man.
It was June 2006, and their patrol Humvee had just been hit by an improvised explosive device. The blast rattled the foursome, led by 29-year-old Cpl. Jared Shoemaker, called "Shoe" by his fellow Marines.
Shoe and Walsh, an EMT nicknamed "Doc," were slightly older and felt responsible for the "young guys," Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepenas, a 21-year-old from Seekonk, Mass., and 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Cody Hill of Ada.
Shoemaker was hired by the Tulsa Police Department on Jan. 3, 2005. He graduated from the police academy that June and was a patrol officer until the Marines called him to active duty in December 2005.
Hill, a gunner, had been up in the turret and was hit hardest. He had a concussion, but the cowboy who brought his roping dummy to Iraq shook it off and joined his team hunting for the man who had tried to kill them.
They were scouring the area, which was hostile territory plagued by sectarian violence. Their weapons were raised and ready.
Then they met Mariam.
"Doc Walsh came across this baby," Hill recalled. "And all of a sudden, she took precedence over finding the man who blew us up."
Mariam was born with a rare condition in which the bladder develops outside the body. She was less than a year old, and she wasn't doing well.
The Marines came up with a plan: They would sneak Navy Capt. Sean Donovan, a doctor assigned to the
1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, from the base to Mariam's house under the cover of night.
Each week, they would risk their lives to help her.
Friends and family of Shoemaker and Hill weren't surprised to hear that the men risked their lives to help save a gravely ill Iraqi baby.
That's just what heroes with hearts of gold do.
But before they could complete their platoon's self-imposed mission to get baby Mariam her lifesaving surgery, a roadside bomb exploded under their Humvee.
On Sept. 4, 2006, the Victor-5 team was patrolling the area around a hotel where another Marine unit was having a memorial service for its members who had been killed by sniper fire a few days earlier.
He remembers switching with Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepenas of Seekonk, Mass.,, so he was driving and "Val" was manning the turret. The streets were covered with junk and trash.
Hill doesn't remember the blast. The IED detonated under their Humvee, killing Shoemaker, Walsh and Valdepenas. The blast blew Hill's door off and tossed him out of the fireball.
Hill remembered how he took the brunt of that June explosion when they first met Mariam and how the rest of his team barely had a scratch.
"Maybe I'm just the biggest pansy and they're still out there fighting," he told himself. "They were the toughest group of guys I'd ever known. I just didn't think it was possible that they were gone if I was still there."
Hill had sustained shrapnel injuries and burns on 50 percent of his body. He remains hospitalized at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Their fellow Marines with 1/25, however, continued the mission that saved Mariam, resolute to honor the casualties of their battalion.
In early October 2006, Mariam was flown to Boston, where she underwent a successful surgery.
"He obviously was in a situation with a very needy child in unusual circumstances. With his Marine training and police training, he felt very compelled to assist," Ken Shoemaker, Jared's father, said.
"From what I understand, it was not something they were required to; it was something that they felt they needed to do."
"Jared Shoemaker was (in Iraq) for every right reason," Hill said. "He felt like he owed America something, whether it be his life or his service - he didn't care."
Every Sept. 4, a group of Marines gathers at Linda and Ken Shoemaker's house to remember Jared.
A natural leader. The ultimate team player. They visit his grave and talk about how much they miss him.
This year eight men, weighted down with full backpacks, marched a 36-hour ruck across Tulsa stopping at every Tulsa Public Schools high school and several entertainment districts in an effort to let people know about the Jared Shoemaker Academy of Rugby.
The academy is an effort to bring the sport of rugby to area high schools while providing mentors to the students.
“We want to work with any at-risk youth and young people failing in school and use rugby as an opportunity to mentor them and help them fulfill their potential,” said Chris Chudleigh, program director.
Chudleigh ran a similar program in England before coming to Tulsa to coach the Tulsa Rugby Club.
The academy is already working with a number of students at McLain High School and is partnering with Youth Services of Tulsa to work with some of its clients.
Jacob Johnston, a sergeant with the Tulsa Police Department and a former rugby player, was in the Marines with Shoemaker.
He credits rugby with helping him be successful in his career, and he wants to help others get that same support.
“The courage it takes to play it is tremendous, and it helps you overcome so many other things in your life,” he said. “Knowing Jared the way I did, this is a great way to honor him and his legacy by instilling the character traits he displayed in other people.”
Ryan Reed, head football coach at Memorial High School, joined the ruck because of his friendship with Shoemaker, which started when Reed played high school football for the Chargers and Shoemaker played for the rival Edison Eagles.
“He was, to be honest, a better football player than me and did better with the girls than I did, and I had every reason to hate him. But we went on a Young Life trip and got to be friends,” Reed said. “I’m really doing this in his honor.”
Reed added that, especially with school budget worries, it’s important to support groups such as this that are interested in working with at-risk students.
“We’re going to be hamstrung with what we can do budgetwise, and … any time you can get positive adult role models around impressionable youth, I think you have to support it.”