A community mourns

Monday, September 18, 2006
Pallbearers loaded the flag-draped casket of Cpl. Jeremy Shank into a hearse outside the First Baptist Church in Jackson Sunday afternoon. (Fred Lynch)

Cpl. Jeremy Shank, who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq, was buried Sunday in Jackson.

As a child, Jeremy Shank patrolled the streets of Jackson with a toy rifle over his shoulder and a toy pistol in his jeans.

He called himself the "gun guy," his father Jim Shank said.

"Jeremy had always been the gun guy, even up to his last breath," Jim Shank said Sunday at his son's funeral.

Cpl. Jeremy Shank, 18, died Sept. 6 in Balad, Iraq, of injuries suffered in Hawijah, Iraq. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Shank was on a dismounted security patrol when he encountered enemy forces using small arms.

About 300 family members, friends and soldiers packed the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Jackson. Hundreds more gathered outside the church and waved flags in support of Jeremy Shank and his family.

Jim Shank remembered his son as a young man with a huge heart and a sense of humor.

Jeremy Shank had three last requests, his father said. The first was to be buried with full military honors, and if something were to happen to him, Jeremy wanted the military to notify his fiancee, Ashley Hahn of Millersville.

"And third, just to show that he had a sense of humor, he wanted his dad to do his eulogy," Jim Shank said as looked out at the crowded pews and flag-draped coffin in front of him.

"Jeremy was that little boy, who liked to cover the toilet seat with cellophane. And that little boy who tied rubber bands around the spray nozzles on the kitchen sink, so that when I turned on the sink, it sprayed me," said Jim Shank with tears in his eyes.

The Jackson man thanked the community for supporting the family in the last week. "These last few days have showed me that not only have I lost a son, but this whole city has lost a son," Jim Shank said.

Christopher Shank also thanked those attending his younger brother's funeral. He referred to a Bible verse, John 13:15, "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

"I'm learning that Jeremy had 300 million friends in this country, and around the world. I gained about 9,000 friends from this town alone," Christopher Shank said.

Several friends remembered the different adventures they embarked on with Jeremy Shank during high school. Jeremy Shank left Jackson High School early, earned a high school equivalency degree and enlisted in the Army in May 2005. He was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, and was one of 7,000 25th Infantry Division soldiers deployed to Iraq in August.

His friends remembered hunting trips they took together and noted the time Jeremy Shank shot a deer from 300 yards away.

"Jeremy chose a life in the military because he'd wanted to serve in the Army. He had found his place in the Army," said the Rev. Carter Frey.

"When people join the military, they put themselves in harm's way so that you and I can have freedom to live in this country," Frey said. "Unfortunately, Jeremy had to pay the ultimate sacrifice."

Frey said he wished he had answers that would take away the Shank family's and friends' suffering and pain. He said he wished there was a way for him to restore life and turn back time.

"What I can offer you is God. A God who loves and cares for us. A God that knows us inside and out. A God who is sufficient to take care of Jeremy and each one of us," Frey said. "God is now the one who is caring for Jeremy."

About 100 men and women riding motorcycles with American flags attached led a processional to Russell Heights Cemetery, where the soldier was laid to rest.

Veterans groups from Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee showed their support for Shank and his family before and after the funeral.

"We feel that Jeremy Shank was one of us, and we want to support him and his family. We are brothers under this banner called the American flag," said Vietnam War veteran Rodger Brown as he stood outside First Baptist Church before the funeral.

"I am absolutely impressed at the number of people, and my heart swells," Brown said. "It's so unfortunate that this young man paid the ultimate price for what he believed in."

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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