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Christmas tree lighting in Mont Alto honors wounded soldier

December 09, 2006|by DON AINES

MONT ALTO, Pa. - On a bitter cold Friday night, the family of U.S. Army Sgt. Edward W. "Eddie" Shaffer gathered at the community Christmas tree in Mont Alto, joined by about 150 friends and neighbors there to show their support for the wounded soldier.

"This is really overwhelming. I didn't expect this," grandfather Edward L. Shaffer said before the tree lighting ceremony, as residents of the small Franklin County community came up to the family offering hugs and words of encouragement.

Eddie Shaffer, 24, was critically wounded Nov. 13 in Ramadi, Iraq, when a roadside bomb went off by his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. He sustained burns over 80 percent of his body, and has had both hands and his left foot amputated since returning the United States for treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

"He's still in critical condition," said his father, Edward C. Shaffer. His son has been in and out of consciousness, but has said a few words and sometimes is responsive to the doctors and nurses treating him, he said.

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The father said he had been in contact with the hospital, and was told his son was placed in a sitting position for a time on Friday.

"They have to move him around to keep him from getting pneumonia," he said.

Skins cells taken from his son have been reproduced, and will be used for a skin graft surgery scheduled for Dec. 14, Edward C. Shaffer said.

Before the tree lighting, an American flag was lowered from the borough flag pole, ceremonially folded and presented to Eddie Shaffer's mother, Brenda, by Bob Harris, Franklin County's director of Veterans Affairs.

"I'm not surprised by this community," Harris said of the outpouring of support. "I've lived here 18 years, and it's always been a supportive, family-type of community."

After the flag presentation, Eddie Shaffer's father flipped the switch to light the tree. Looking on were Eddie Shaffer's mother, grandfather, brother Tim, grandmothers Goldie and June Shaffer, other relatives and Shaffer's girlfriend, Justina Martinez.

"It's wonderful to see this community come together," Mayor Steve Knepper said. "It's just a little something to say, we're thinking about him ... This is also a salute for all the other men and women who can't be home for Christmas."

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