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Soldier dies from injuries caused by bomb in Iraq

December 29, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

MONT ALTO, PA. - Edward L. Shaffer read over a note from his grandson's comrades through tears Thursday morning as he spoke of U.S. Army Sgt. Edward W. "Eddie" Shaffer's death Wednesday at a Texas military hospital.

Eddie Shaffer, 23, of Mont Alto, succumbed to his injuries Wednesday at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he was being treated for critical burns sustained in a Nov. 13 roadside bomb blast in Ramadi, Iraq.

In a phone interview Thursday morning, Edward L. Shaffer read over a card he received from members of Eddie Shaffer's platoon still stationed in Iraq. The card had more than 30 signatures, all saying Shaffer was missed.

"One says, 'To the family that groomed and raised one of the greatest American heroes and greatest friends I have ever had the privilege of having in my life. Merry Christmas ... May God answer your prayers,'" Edward L. Shaffer said, reading over the note and choking back tears.

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The roadside bomb that went off by Eddie Shaffer's Bradley Fighting Vehicle caused burns to more than 80 percent of his body. Both of his hands and his left foot had been amputated since he returned to the United States for treatment, The Herald-Mail has reported.

"He had a skin graft and it didn't take, so from that point on, they couldn't do anything more for him," Edward L. Shaffer said. "The infection took over."

In Eddie Shaffer's final days, his father, Edward C. Shaffer, and mother, Brenda, would talk to him "and they said sometimes it looked like he had a smile ... but there wasn't any real communication," the grandfather said.

Shaffer said that his grandson's immediate family was at his bedside when he died. The family is working on getting back to their hometown of Mont Alto and to getting Eddie Shaffer's body to Grove-Bowersox Funeral Home in Waynesboro, Pa. He said his grandson will receive a full military escort, but said funeral arrangements have not been finalized.

On Thursday afternoon, Shaffer said he had not yet heard when the family will return with his grandson's body.

Eddie Shaffer, a 2002 graduate of Waynesboro Area Senior High School, was in the Army for more than three years before his death, his grandfather said.

"He wanted to build confidence for computers," he said. "After he graduated, he started talking about joining the service."

"He's a hero," Shaffer said through tears. He said his grandson was "really a nice boy. He was on the quiet side, and everybody liked him so much."

Bob Harris, director of veterans affairs for Franklin County, said Shaffer was the first soldier from Franklin County killed in Iraq.

Harris said there are about 200 members of the armed forces from Franklin County serving in various branches of the military in harm's way.

Harris said Mont Alto, a community of about 1,500, has shown considerable concern since news of Shaffer's injuries reached town.

Mont Alto Mayor Steve Knepper said Thursday that the town is trying to coordinate a candlelight vigil in Shaffer's honor. Tammy Kauffman, secretary of the Mont Alto Historical Society, said the tribute likely will be late next week, after funeral arrangements are known.

"The community would like to do something to honor Eddie," Kauffman said. "We're blessed to have young men and women" willing to serve in the military, she said.

A tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 8 at the town's community Christmas tree drew about 150 friends and neighbors on a bitterly cold night to show their support for the soldier.

At the post office, the bank and local sandwich shops, Harris said Thursday that recent discussion typically revolved around Shaffer.

"It buzzes through the community and it affects us all," Harris said.

"As a veterans director and as a former recruiter, you know these things can happen," he said, adding that it doesn't make it easier.

"I just hope that it's the last fatality we have and the last wounding as far as Franklin County and the state and the nation goes," Harris said. "As a military man, I know we have to be there ... but it's time to resolve the issue one way or another."

The Department of Defense lists 143 Pennsylvania men and women killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003. Neighboring Fulton County, with approximately 14,000 residents compared to 138,000 in Franklin County, has had two servicemen killed in the war - Staff Sgt. Christopher E. Cutchall, who died Sept. 29, 2003; and Lance Cpl. Steven W. Szwydek, killed Oct. 20, 2005.

The casualty list includes at least three military personnel from Cumberland County and one from Adams County that have been killed in the war.

One of those Cumberland County residents, Staff Sgt. Kimberly A. Voelz of Carlisle, Pa., was memorialized at Letterkenny Army Depot in Franklin County, where a gate at its ammunition center was named in her honor.

Staff writer Don Aines contributed to this story.

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