SPC Zachary A. Shanafelt served his country gallantly until he passed away November 21, 2012 at Walter Reed Medical Center and was part of the Wounded Warrior program. Zach was involved in an accident more than a year ago in Afghanistan. He was a certified combat medic with the Attack Battery 1-84th Field Artillery at Combat Outpost Qaisar in the Fariyab Province Not all soldiers are killed or injured in battle. Not Zach. The injuries he received were from an accident he encountered in Afghanistan.
I never knew the Zachary directly, but indirectly. We crossed paths briefly for about an hour in 2006 when his Creston High School 11th grade class came to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a Biome tour. Zach and his other ROTC friend stayed at the back of a group 12 other students, but it was easy to see Zach was different. He stood tall and although some students acted bored he never did. He listened intently on the subject matter. When I asked a question he snapped to attention. At the conclusion of the tour I noted some of his classmates derided on being an ROTC fanatic, but I saw a very personable young man who was destined for greatness beyond himself. He was proud and comfortable of who he was in his own skin. He had a destined "goal" in life. His father and mentors inspired him greatly.
Here was a high school student who knew what he wanted in life; he had a lofty goal to be proud of his heritage and serve the America which he loved dearly. Yes he was on the fast track and served his country honorably and bravely putting other people above himself. Fast tracks in military life pose even greater risk to body and mind, but Zach wasn't shy. He knew what he wanted to do from high school onward early in life. His mind was positively charged and his body was preparing for the adventure of his life when he visited FMG. He was securing his destiny.
Many times after tours I ask the students about their future plans and 11th graders these days pretty much don't answer questions. They stand like silent zombies afraid to answer lest they answer incorrectly, but Zach and friend weren't afraid to answer and learned to laugh at themselves. Zach had a sense of learning humor, too and was not afraid of the older docent (me) teaching him how to survive in other countries. He displayed a take charge mentality. Some said, "He was a dreamer who did what others classified as impossible," but he had the gift to inspire others to dream and make dreams come true. To family and friends they saw a young military man speeding through life like a blazing comet. After snatching his fiery star dust trail; he took them on a wild journey to experience life through his eyes. Zach never looked back; only forward pressing on and became a shining star to many children.
Zach made lots of small friends in Afghanistan and fell in love with the children always requesting gifts from American children and passing them out to children. He energized others to reach out and touch lives for the sake of humanity; put self last. He simply loved life and put the hope and dreams of others above himself. Today was Zach's funeral at Pederson Funeral Home in Rockford, Michigan at 11 a.m. Prior to bringing his casket out, the bagpiper stood on the cold front porch and played Amazing Grace. TV media were there across the street. Military family saluted. His casket was placed on the cradle in the middle of N. Monroe St. The family was seated on chairs and from the south marching north up the east side sidewalk came 700+ proud children who walked 1.5 miles from Valley View Elementary School in a procession a half-mile long to pay tribute to SPC Zachary as part their Patriot's Week Program. They proudly stood in the cold waving small flags. They made Rockford proud; to give of themselves to honor Zach and his family for his sacrifice to America and the freedoms adults sometimes take for granted. Many eyes misted and teardrops fell paying honor to a young soldier who loved helping children in a far away place. Never stop dreaming.