GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.- Funeral arrangements are set for a Grand Rapids soldier who has died. Zachary Shanafelt was injured during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2011. He was being treated at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, but the day before Thanksgiving, his father says his son died in his sleep. He was 24-years-old.
Army Specialist Zachary Shanafelt was working as a combat medic with A Battery First Battalion, 84th Field Artillery. We found information and photos of Shanafelt online in March of 2011 as he watched Navy technicians destroying an improvised explosive device.
When he was a student at Creston, his teachers say he already showed a great ability to lead others. “He was a good kid he could do just about anything that he put his head to. Going to miss him. It`s just a crying shame that someone who young with so much promise,” Col. Don Robinson, Creston High School ROTC instructor.
Before Zachary was a combat medic, he was a young man in Creston’s ROTC program, Robinson was not only Zachary’s teacher, he also considered him family.
“Dad`s the one who finds them in the hallway and kicks them in the butt, Grandpa when they got a B on a paper they`ve been struggling with. It`s a great job. You all ought to have my job, but this is one of those times, you have to regret. He was a great kid,” says Robinson.
Robinson said Zachary was a natural-born leader with a lighter side. “When it was time to work, he was very business-like. And, when he was wearing his Lt. Col rank he was more serious. Otherwise, there was a stretch he went through where he spiked his hair and it was bright green,” says Robinson.
Robinson says Zachary came to him first thing to let him know he was going into the U.S. Army when he made that decision in 2009. Robinson says he kept in touch over the years even as Zachary was growing his own family and growing his military career. If Robinson could say something to Zachary, he would say this from the heart.
“I`m proud of you, thank you for your service, and for the time and years he`s given to me,” says Robinson.
There will be a military service Friday morning at 11 AM at the Pederson Funeral Home in Rockford. Relatives and friends can meet with the family at the funeral home from 7 to 9 PM. If you wish to help out, the family has established a fund for Zachary’s 13-month-old son at any Fifth Third Bank. Donations to the wounded warrior project are also encouraged.