The Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies celebrates the life of former professor and Navy Captain Albert Shimkus Jr. (April 6, 1945 – March 12, 2022).
Born in Hopedale Massachusetts, he graduated from Hopedale High School in 1965 where he was a runner on the cross country team. After graduation, while the U.S. was fully engaged in the Vietnam War, he enrolled in seminary. He left the seminary and lost his 4D Deferment Status and quickly enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
In 1967, he deployed to Bien Hoa Air Force Base in Vietnam as a general duty medic. While in Vietnam, Al experienced an event that 50 years later he would recall as a “life- altering experience for certain.” In the early hours of January 31, 1968, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched the infamous Tet Offensive, a series of surprise attacks against the South Vietnamese and the U.S. Forces. When Bien Hoa Air Force base became overrun, Al and his fellow countrymen faced the enemy head-on. Four U.S. Airmen were killed in action with another dying of a heart attack. Twenty-six others were wounded.
Following the Vietnam War, he left the Air Force and earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1974 from Salem State College. After some time working in civilian hospitals, in 1977, he commissioned into the U.S. Navy Nursing Corps and was assigned to the Naval Hospital that served the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1982, he received his Bachelor of Science in Nurse Anesthesia from George Washington University.
Al served 33 years in a decorated military career that included assignments as the Senior Medical Officer on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS George Washington; Executive Officer of U.S. Hospital, Naples, Italy; Commanding Officer of U.S. Navy Hospital Guantanamo Bay; Joint Task Force Surgeon of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay; Commanding Officer of Medical Treatment Facility USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort. He served 11 cumulative years at sea in support of deployed forces.
His military awards include a three-time recipient of the Legion of Merit award, the Joint Meritorious Services award, a four-time recipient of the Meritorious Service Award, a three-time recipient of the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation. For his service in the Vietnam War, he received Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign Ribbons, the Vietnam Service Medal, ad three Vietnam Campaign Medals.
In 2016, Al first came to the Center as a visiting professor from the Navy War College. He showcased his skills as a leader and educator as seminar leader during an Indo-Pacific Orientation Course and as a panelist on a RIMPAC Symposium on Women, Peace and Security. He eventually came to the Center in April of 2020.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he took on lead responsibilities of the Center’s COVID-19 Working Group (CWG) providing steady-handed leadership during a tumultuous time. Eric Bartolome, the Center’s legal advisor, worked with Al on the CWG.
“In a stressful situation he could have easily used his position to step on others. Instead, he showed his character and led us with unwavering kindness,” said Eric. “I will never forget when the world was in chaos, he said to us, ‘This too, shall pass.’”
As the CWG lead, he gave ongoing recommendations on the Center’s COVID policy and Safety protocols. He also worked closely with USINDOPACOM and the Navy Clinic to ensure the DKI APCSS team had early access to vaccinations and testing for staff and Fellows.
As a seasoned professor, he provided mentorship to the Center’s incoming faculty. DKI APCSS Professor and Navy Captain Kimberly McCann remembers Al foremost as a family man.
“His love and pride for his family was immediately clear when you walked into his office and his entire face lit up when he spoke about his family,” said Captain McCann. “He also dearly loved his country and was focused on doing his part to make the world better.”
“I will remember Al Shimkus as a giant with a humble heart,” said DKI APCSS Director Peter Gumataotao. “He found a graceful way to get us thru tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever he did he did in a nurturing way. Whatever he did we always knew if he was involved he gave his whole heart and attention. We are better for it. We will miss him dearly- a gentleman, a scholar, a good man with a big heart.
On October 13, 2021, Al provided remarks to the Center while celebrating the Navy’s 246th birthday. He shared the story of Captain (ret.) Charlie Plumb who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam after he parachuted into Hanoi after his fighter jet had been shot down. After his retirement, the retired Navy fighter pilot was approached in a restaurant by the sailor who, he discovered, had packed his parachute. He realized he probably had passed by the sailor often without any forethought because, “he was a fighter pilot and the man was a sailor.”
Al ended what would be his final remarks to the Center saying, “Sometimes in our daily lives we miss what’s really important. We may fail to say hello, please, thank you, congratulate on something, or provide a compliment or just do something kind for no particular reason. As you move thru the rest of your lives [in our Navy uniform] recognize in some way, every day, those who have packed your parachute.”
Al leaves behind his wife, Christi. Together, they have a blended family of nine children, more than 20 grandchildren, and one great granddaughter. He also leaves behind four sisters, Anne Marie, Mary, Sally, and Francis.