Family learns more about fallen Vietnam War vet through those who fought by his side
A solemn ceremony to honor a life lost long ago.
“Gerry’s life and death impacted our family a lot,” declares Angie McLean from Cambridge. “But to be able to meet here and honor him is beautiful.”
Loved ones gathered at Fort Snelling National Cemetery on Saturday to remember U.S. Army Cpl. Gerald Shanor, who killed during the Vietnam War on March 12, 1970. He was 19 years old.
“We should never forget anybody who’s fallen to fight for our country,” said Mike Shanor, the corporal’s nephew. “This means a lot because there’s so many people that you think don’t know what happened. You don’t know their story.”
An emotional time for the Shanor family.
For the first time, they got to meet with a group of Vietnam veterans from their uncle’s unit: Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment.
“If you’re a veteran and you’re afraid of confronting the grave, don’t be. It’s the answer,” said Gary Gilliam, a Charlie Company veteran who lives in Missouri. “And the family — they get to finally hear about the hero that their brother, or son, nephew or uncle was.”
Each summer these vets — they call themselves the Remembrance Team — travel the country to honor their fallen comrades.
Between 1970 and 1971, Charlie Company lost 26 men. Shanor was the second soldier killed during that period.
Seventy-five men from the entire battalion were killed in action in just 23 days.
Gilliam says his team had no idea where Shanor’s gravesite was until a lucky break.
“I went back to the wall, the virtual wall, and his old girlfriend had left a message on the wall and left her name,” he recalls. “The email was outdated, but after running through all the connections, trying to find her through email, I tried Facebook, and here, she popped.”
An internet and social media search, along with information from the girlfriend, led Gilliam and his colleagues to Minnesota — and Shanor’s family.
His sister, brother, and mother had already passed away.
“They didn’t get to know what happened. It wasn’t unsealed, really until a few years ago,” McLean, Shanor’s niece, explains. “What was really going through my mind was standing here and being my mom’s voice. She really loved and missed her brother her whole life and shared that with ours.”
The family and these soldiers now know that Shanor was point man on a patrol in a mountainous area the military called “Rocket Ridge,” near the city of Hue.
He was killed in an ambush during a fierce firefight with North Vietnamese forces.
“The enemy located them, slipped in at dark, and overcame that squad,” Gilliam says. “He was hit by an RPG, and he died instantly. It was a hard thing.”
During the fighting, the soldiers say there was no time to mourn.
Now there is.
“Doing this for others, we found closure, we found a peace that we didn’t even know existed,” Gilliam declares. “We were able to say goodbye, and it brought so much peace.”
The group presented the family with a folded American flag, some commemorative coins, and a special placard, along with their heartfelt thanks.
“I have a 23-year-old son who is Gerry’s namesake,” McLean says. “I named him Gerry, and he’s older than my uncle who passed away in a country far away. That’s hard to imagine.”
The Remembrance Team has organized the memorials for 24 fallen soldiers so far.
They are doing two more: in Washington state in August and in Arizona next spring.
Remembrance, honor and closure after 53 years.
Meanwhile, Mike Shanor says he’s glad his family’s next generation will now know the full measure of his uncle’s sacrifice.
“It’s just great that other people care enough to want to come out and take time out of their life to honor one of their brothers who’s fallen,” he says. “To me, that’s just, I love it. My heart is filled with love right now.”
You can find out more about Charlie Company here.