Fallen soldier's father- 'You can be a hero at any age'

Saturday, November 11, 2006

By SCOTT MOYERS

Southeast Missourian

"Want to see what a hero looks like?"

Jim Shank asked the question to the auditorium full of wide-eyed Scott City school children Friday morning. Shank then pulled out a poster-sized picture of a handsome 18-year-old young man.

"This is my son," he said. "Jeremy Shank."

In an emotional speech, Jim Shank of Jackson spoke at a Scott City School District assembly for Veterans Day on Friday, just two months after his son died in Iraq.

The core of his message was that tomorrow is never guaranteed and that the children should make sure that their parents and extended family members know they are loved.

"Take a look at your life," he said. "Take a look at what you're doing. You can be a hero at any age. But whatever you do, don't let life pass you by. ... Jeremy didn't get that chance."

Cpl. Jeremy Shank, 18, died Sept. 6 in Balad, Iraq, of injuries suffered in Hawijah, Iraq. Shank was on a dismounted security patrol when he encountered enemy forces using small arms. Shank had only been in Iraq two weeks when he was killed.

During his talk, Jim Shank read from his son's journal, which painted a picture of a scared young man with death at the forefront of his mind. "I've never felt so close to death in my life," Jeremy Shank wrote.

After the speech, Shank shared other insights about life without his son. He said he always knew that his son loved him, but Jeremy had a hard time expressing those feelings.

"I made sure I told him every time I talked to him," Jim Shank said. "That sort of thing was never easy for Jeremy. But I knew he loved me."

Two months afterward, the reality of his son's death hasn't sunk in yet, Shank said. He said events like Friday's homecoming for 50 area soldiers who were in Iraq are bittersweet.

"I always figured mine would be one of them coming home," he said. "The guys I knew over there all came back. I expected Jeremy would also."

One of Shank's proudest statements has been stripped from him.

"I could always say, 'My three sons,'" Shank said. "Now that's empty. I still have three sons, but I don't have three sons anymore."

Shank doesn't know what to expect today, his first Veterans Day without his son. He does know he plans to put a flag and wreath on his son's grave.

He admits in the past it has always been just another day. He doesn't blame people who just want to have a barbecue or spend time with family. "I don't hold that against anybody," he said. "The veterans fought so we could have that day and do whatever we want with it."

Shank was pleased with the recent election. He believes his son wasn't trained enough and that soldiers should be pulled from Iraq, though he is quick to add he is very supportive of the troops.

"If our president pulled the guys out of Iraq today I wouldn't say Jeremy died in vain," Shank said. "But if more and more kids like Jeremy died, I would say he died in vain, because we didn't learn."

One thing Shank knows he won't ever do is try to put his son out of his thoughts.

"I don't plan on forgetting him," Shank said. "And I don't plan on letting anybody else forget either."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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