Fla. Soldier Remembered For His Faith

By Lila de Tantillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 17, 2005

People who met Cpl. Jimmy L. Shelton could tell right away he was a good-hearted country boy with a quick wit and a sense of humor to match, friends said. But those who had the opportunity to get to know him discovered the 21-year-old soldier also had a profound relationship with Jesus Christ and a sober view of his responsibilities toward God and country, they said.

Shelton, 21, of Lehigh Acres, Fla., died Dec. 3 in Bayji, Iraq, when his base was attacked by mortar fire. He had been trained as a cavalry scout and assigned to the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, the 206th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried there.

During a service at the Old Post Chapel, Shelton was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. About 100 mourners then proceeded to the grave site, where Shelton was eulogized by an Army chaplain, Maj. Claude Brittian. Brigadier Gen. Stephen Mundt presented the flag that had draped Shelton's coffin to his father, Burgess Shelton. He also is survived by his mother, Donna Manger, and stepmother, Billi Jo Shelton.

Shelton was born in Belle Glade, Fla.

"We knew he was going to be a faithful soldier for his Christ," said John Vance, 25, a friend who had known Shelton for more than a decade. They attended school together at Gunnery Road Christian Academy in Buckingham, Fla., where Shelton was close friends with Vance's younger sister, Jackie. They also worshiped together at Gunnery Road Baptist Church, where Vance's father, Terry Vance, is pastor.

About 400 people attended a service held in Shelton's memory Tuesday at Riverside Church in Fort Myers, Fla. Terry Vance memorialized Shelton as someone who not only was a good soldier but who also was guided by his unwavering faith.

After his death, Shelton's family learned that he had written the page number for one of his favorite hymns, "He Gave His Life for Me," in his Bible.

During his younger years, Shelton was known as a jokester who was always ready with a prank or sly retort. For example, he wore a pair of Garfield pajamas that he had made in a school sewing class under his robe on graduation day, rather than the suits or formal attire that other students wore. Shelton also was active in athletics. He played basketball and was quarterback of the football team.

Shelton was interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement and studied criminal justice at Bob Jones University for about a year. He returned to Florida to work at a correctional facility and decided to enlist in the Army. He never failed to stop by his former church and school whenever he was home on leave.

Vance said that during his time in the service, Shelton became more serious and matured beyond his years.

"He understood the reality of life and that he might die," Vance said. "He knew he'd been given a lot and knew something was required of him."

Shelton told those close to him that he loved being a soldier. He left for Iraq this year and recently had been promoted to corporal. In the days shortly before his death, he had called most of his close family members and friends and told them he was doing well and believed in his mission.

"God was preparing us, and God was preparing him," Vance said. "We were able to reassure him of our love, too."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company