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93-year-old Georgetown hero reflects on Army career

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Posted at 7:02 PM, Jun 06, 2023

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (LEX 18) — To spend some time with retired Sergeant First Class Raymond Shackelford, it’s a guarantee that he’s going to make you laugh.

“Keep your questions clean!” laughs Shackelford. “At my age, I don’t think I could stand it!”

Shackelford just celebrated his 93rd birthday on Saturday, when another veteran threw a party for him at a brewery in Georgetown. He grew up poor in Virginia as one of 13 children and learned at an early age to do anything to make money.

“I shined shoes for the soldiers on those bases. 10 cents a shoe shine,” Shackelford recalls. “I grew up a little bit more and I started peddling telegrams at night. The worst part about that was I was delivering bad news.”

He eventually quit high school to join the Army as a means of providing for his family.

“I went to the Army and national recruiter (and asked), ‘What’s available for me?’ I asked, ‘Are you taking anybody who is 17 years old?’ and he said, ‘We’ll take you if you are healthy…’ and I’m glad he didn’t say wealthy and wise!”

Mature beyond his years, he was promoted to drill sergeant as a teenager and later discovered his real calling.

“So, when I got through basic training, they said, ‘We’re looking for paratroopers.' And then up walked four of the sharpest lookin’ dudes I’ve ever seen! Of course, they were all six foot tall and dressed to kill! And they said paratroopers have a different uniform. And I said, ‘I’m gonna be one of those! I figure I can grow to six foot tall and be one of them!”

So the guy who left school ended up going to jump school to launch a 37-year career that included serving as a paratrooper during the Korean War and later spending years doing special classified assignments.

“My wife used to say, ‘What do you do out there?’ And I said, ‘Honey, if I told you I’d have to kill ya!’, Shackelford says with a wink and a smile. “In other words…classified!”

Raymond later wrote an autobiography detailing his extraordinary career; the incredible life story of a true hero among us.