Sax-playing WWII pilot
became Pacific islands jurist

Robert K. Shoecraft's greatest legacy might not be his rise to the rank of captain as one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

Nor his holding the post of chief justice of the Trust Territory High Court of Micronesia.

Nor his years as a saxophonist in New York during the big-band era.

Rather, "he was one of the few people in the world who never had an enemy," said his wife of 34 years, Alice. "He was not only a gentleman, but a gentle man.

"He was never angry or spoke roughly to people," she said.

That personality led to a multitude of good friends and a wonderful life, his wife said.

Shoecraft, a longtime Honolulu resident, died Sept. 1 at the age of 91.

Born in Xenia, Ohio, Shoecraft and his brother were raised by their grandparents after their mother died in the 1918 flu epidemic.

The young Ohio man moved to New York to pursue a musical career, playing the saxophone at the Savoy with the likes of Count Basie and a young Pearl Bailey.

But his career as a professional musician ended when he was drafted into the Army Air Corps, becoming one of the few black men selected for officer's training school, then becoming a lieutenant. Shoecraft worked as a ground engineer with the Tuskegee Airmen and was later promoted to captain.

During World War II, the Army Air Corps selected from Tuskegee Institute, a small black college in Alabama, and trained African-American pilots and support staff, who became the Tuskegee Airmen.

After his medical discharge from the Army Air Corps in 1947, Shoecraft put himself through law school at Ohio State University by cutting hair.

"He had many talents," his wife, Alice, said, adding that he cut his own hair until he died.

Shoecraft began practicing law in Xenia, then went to Guam and the Trust Territory in 1958.

He became attorney general, then served as chief justice of the Trust Territory High Court of Micronesia from 1958 to 1970.

It was during that time that Alice, a Peace Corps volunteer, met him, on Sept. 2, 1966.

The first moment he saw her walk through the door at a Saipan golf course, "It was like I was kicked in the stomach by a mule," he would often say.

The couple wed in 1971 in Hong Kong.

After his retirement as chief justice, Shoecraft practiced law in Guam for 10 years and then retired.

The couple left Guam for Honolulu in 1980 where they have lived the past 25 years. Shoecraft enjoyed golf.

Alice Shoecraft discovered his saxophone mouthpiece among his mementos.

"We really have a treasure," Alice said. "We didn't know it was here.

"He was a treasure in my heart, too," she said.

Private services were held.

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