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Family proud to be Navy all the way

October 3, 2011

Special to the Standard

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Before Ken Shoener answers his cell phone, callers get to hear an energetic military band rendition of “Anchors Aweigh!”
That the U.S. Navy theme song is his favorite should come as no surprise. He is one of a long line to serve: his grandfather, Maxwell Mueller, was in World War I; his father, Donald P. Shoener was career Navy and received the Distinguished Flying Cross after being shot down three times in World War II; his uncle Jack was a Navy Merchant Marine in World War II and Ken was stationed on the USS Talbot during Vietnam.
Although the ship saw no action, Shoener suffered severe hearing loss from the frequent test firings of guns and missiles and received a medical discharge.
Now his son Michael, 27, is a second class Navy corpsman, the equivalent of an Army medic. He graduated from Navy Corpsman School and also trained with the Marines.
He is on a 12-18 month deployment in Afghanistan training Afghani nationals to be medics.
“Michael thinks he’s going to make a career of it,” says his proud father. “This kid is consummate Navy.”
Ken’s daughter Kirsten, 20, finished boot camp at the Great Lakes Navy Training Center and is in aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear cruiser in dry dock in Norfolk, Va. She is getting antsy.
“She’s a tough kid,” says her father. “She’s awaiting orders but has volunteered to cruise on the next available ship going out.” Kirsten is also interested in being a corpsman.
Shoener counts a number of other servicemen among his extended family. His godson, Sgt. Dennis Shoener, of Exeter, is in the Air Force and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan three times.
“His job is classified,” says Ken. “We never really know where he is. He trained with the Israeli commandos.”
Daniel Coughlin, a nephew, is a Navy master of arms – a role formerly known as shore patrol – in Guam. His sister, Megan Coughlin, is waiting to attend Air Force boot camp. It was his father Donald’s service, Ken says, that inspired his life. He has a glass-encased shadowbox where he displays a host of medals and ribbons awarded to his dad.
“He never said anything [about his exploits] when he was alive, but the man who framed the medals asked, ‘Are you sure these are all one guy?’”
Besides the Distinguished Flying Cross, which has been awarded since 1918 for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight” – an honor second only to the Legion of Merit – Donald P. Shoener also received, among other decorations, the Air Medal with four clusters, the Pacific Campaign medal and the American Award.
“The day they bombed Hiroshima, he was in the second flight over, doing damage assessment. He was shot down three times over the Pacific” and survived with only a handful of shrapnel scars.”
In 1955, the Shoeners moved to Rhode Island when Donald was transferred to Davisville as a Seabee. He retired in 1974 as a Navy chief.
“All the chiefs’ wives hung around together,” Ken recalls. “It was like having nine or 10 moms.” His, Nadyne, lives in Shore Acres and is 82.
With the ancestral history of military service, it isn’t surprising that this generation of Shoeners would continue the practice.
“When my son called and told me he enlisted, he said ‘I want to be the fourth generation. It’s a Navy family, a family heritage and tradition.”
Both Michael and Kirsten believe they’ll be well-prepared for medical careers when they leave the Navy.
“It’s an opportunity to better themselves. The knowledge they receive in the medical field will set them up so they’ll be able to go to any hospital in the country and find jobs.”
Ken and his former wife, Anne, have three civilian children including sons Jordan and Andrew and daughter Katie Rooney. She’s doing her part, though. Katie is married to Kyle Rooney, an ex-Marine who is a member of the Air National Guard.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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