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HCR089: Interview with a former Navy SEAL


In this episode, I interview Woody Shoemaker, who was a Navy SEAL in the early 1970’s. Woody shares about his experiences in the Navy and the training required to become a SEAL. We also discuss his tour in Vietnam, his subsequent conversion experience, his ministry with the Agape Force, and his pastorates in California and Kansas. Woody’s wife, Gail, died in 2007, leaving Woody and their six children behind.

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Elwood “Woody” R. Shoemaker

woody shoemakerWoody Shoemaker was born in Tulare, California on July 21, 1949. His great grandfather came from Pittsburg in 1910 and bought farm land which they currently own. He was raised in the country and has always felt grateful for the many advantages given to him as a result. Woody learned many practical skills and the value of hard work from his father and his grandfather, who lived near to the family on the ranch.

Woody’s education was very good with a number of his teachers from the “old school” of learning. For example, reading was taught phonetically, by sounding out the words, the students wrote in cursive, and they memorized their times tables.

His grew up in the sixties generation and was exposed to the “drop out, tune in, turn on” philosophy. The “peace movement” presented a more spiritual approach to life, howbeit not biblical. The youth culture was swept along by its leaders in the music world and on the campuses. Musicians probably exerted the most influence during that period. The material values of the parents of the sixties kids was rejected for a “live for today” mentality. Fast cars were cheap and friends were supportive, so Woody joined in.

He did not enjoy the privilege of having been raised in a Christian home. Religion was never spoken of, and when it was, it was not in a favorable light. Woody never went to a Bible teaching church and never heard the gospel of Christ until he was in his twenties. Yet, his concept of God was very accurate as he came to realize in later years. His personal experience measured by the Scriptures revealed that God had accurately shown himself to Woody and given him a great deal of light. He had enough light to stand accountable to God for his sins; all of which were unforgiven at this point.

When he was 18 he joined the Navy and graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in 1969. Woody’s class began with 134 well screened individuals, and graduated 34. He served as point man for his platoon in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and two Navy Commendations. He also competed in World Naval Pentathlon in Karlscrona, Sweden in 1970.

Upon returning from Vietnam, Woody experienced a life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and his life was changed. As he states, “Christ befriended me, forgave my sins, and set me on an entirely new course for my life.” He joined the ministry, married a wonderful church girl, Gail Ensmenger, had six children, and pastored several churches with a focus on youth and their families.

Woody has served in a variety of capacities including director of a college-level onsite program, supervisor for the Deep Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, assisting the elderly continue to live at home, amateur horse trainer, jail chaplain. He is currently striving to be a first class grandfather and give back to the next generation.

Quoting John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, Woody says, “This I know—I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”