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Hundreds attend funeral for soldier killed in Iraq

November 30, 1999|By DON AINES

MONT ALTO, Pa. ? Friday was Memorial Day for Sgt. Eddie Shaffer, with eulogies instead of speeches and a funeral procession past mourners on streets lined with American flags instead of a parade as a community paid its final tribute to the soldier from Mont Alto, Pa.

There were the nearly 800 people who attended Thursday night's visitation, more than 300 who attended Friday's services at Grove-Bowersox Funeral Home and at the graveside, dozens of children standing outside St. Andrew Catholic Church as the procession slowly passed, and scores of other people lining Main Street.

Edward W. Shaffer, 24, died Dec. 27 at a military hospital at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas, of wounds he received Nov. 13 in Ramadi in western Iraq. A gunner in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Shaffer received burns over 80 percent of his body when a roadside bomb exploded next to the vehicle.

Shaffer was the first Franklin County soldier killed in the war. CNN listed Shaffer as the 3,000th soldier killed in Iraq, although the Associated Press named another soldier in its count of casualties in the war.

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"As you think of Eddie Shaffer in the years to come ... I want you to think of the name American Hero because they are synonymous," Brig. Gen. Todd Semonite told the family, friends and others who packed the funeral home. "We in the Army also lost a comrade-in-arms," the general said, his voice breaking at times.

Two days earlier in Ramadi, Shaffer's unit, the 136th Infantry Battalion of the 1st Armored Division, held a memorial service. Maj. Jeff Bacon read tributes from fellow soldiers.

"I was always in awe of Eddie and how brilliant he was," Bacon said, quoting one soldier. Semonite later noted that his comrades called Shaffer "The Brain."

"He was the only guy who could pull me out of a bad day," another said.

Bacon quoted Shaffer's platoon commander as saying he never was a soldier to complain, even after being wounded by shrapnel in May, for which Shaffer received his first Purple Heart.

The general presented the family with Shaffer's second Purple Heart Friday, along with a Bronze Star for meritorious service and Gold Star pins for family members.

"Eddie Shaffer was a noncommissioned officer ... He was a leader of other men," Semonite said. "There are soldiers alive today because Eddie Shaffer trained them up."

A number of Shaffer's Waynesboro Area Senior High School classmates attended the funeral.

"He was a great guy. Soft-spoken in school, but he was always positive about everything," Jonathan Eles said of Shaffer, who graduated from Waynesboro in 2002.

"He never had a negative attitude," said Stephenie Bender, another classmate, and a veteran who served in Iraq in 2003-04.

Escorted through the rain by Pennsylvania State Police, the procession of more than 100 vehicles followed the hearse containing his flag-draped casket through Mont Alto, where hundreds of flags lined Main Street, to Parklawns Memorial Gardens north of Chambersburg, Pa. Army sergeants served as his pallbearers, an honor guard fired a three-volley rifle salute and taps was played.

The flag that covered his casket was presented to his mother, Brenda. She and other family members caressed the casket after the service concluded.

"We've been friends with the Shaffers since Eddie was 2 years old," said Beth Kreitz of Waynesboro. She recalled a boy who loved to hunt and occasionally was "a daredevil."

"Very bright. Very brainy. He was amazing with computers," Kreitz said. When Shaffer enlisted, however, "he said he wanted to be on the front lines." "He was going to fight for his country," she said.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists and others who attend military funerals, stood watch along with Waynesboro police around the funeral home. The riders often serve as a buffer between mourners and members of the Westboro (Kan.) Baptist Church, a group that conducts anti-homosexual protests at soldiers' funerals.

An area was set up a few hundred feet from the funeral home for the group to use for its protest, but Chief Ray Shultz said they never showed up.

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