Soldier, 19, Is Laid to Rest After Brief Military Career

Spec. Stephen G. Zapasnik had been in Iraq four months when he died.
Spec. Stephen G. Zapasnik had been in Iraq four months when he died. (U.s. Army Via Associated Press)
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By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Army Spec. Stephen G. Zapasnik had been in Iraq only four months when he was killed Christmas Eve.

Zapasnik, 19, of Broken Arrow, Okla., died in southern Iraq in a vehicle rollover, according to the Department of Defense. Two other soldiers were killed in the incident.

Yesterday, a small group of mourners gathered under a gray sky as Zapasnik was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. They followed his coffin, sheathed in plastic to protect it from the rain, to the graveside service in Section 60 of the cemetery.

After seven riflemen fired off three shots apiece and a bugler chimed in with taps, the soldier's mother, Chris Zapasnik, received a folded flag and condolences from Army Secretary Pete Geren, among others.

Shortly after her son's death, she told the Tulsa World that she and Stephen had talked about the possibility that he would not make it home.

"He said, 'Mom, if I ever don't come back, you know I will always be with you, and I will be with Jesus, and I will be fine,' " she said. "I know that he's perfectly safe and spending Christmas up there with Jesus."

Killed alongside Zapasnik were Staff Sgt. Christopher G. Smith, 28, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Spec. Stephen M. Okray, 21, of St. Clair Shores, Mich.

The soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colo.

Zapasnik joined the Army before turning 18 and joined the 2nd Brigade Combat Team five months later. He deployed to Iraq in September and had received several medals and awards during his brief military career.

According to the Tulsa World, several hundred mourners gathered in Broken Arrow last week to honor Zapasnik and talked about his strong faith, dedication, sense of humor and heroism. One recalled how Zapasnik was so dedicated to serving that he shed more than 90 pounds to become eligible for military service.

On, dozens of heartfelt posts spanned an online guest book in the days after Zapasnik's death. Describing herself as a "Proud army mom," Chris Zapasnik posted her thanks for the support.

"I just want to thank you all so much for your prayers and kind words," she wrote. "Stephen would be amazed at the outpouring of love and sympathy we are receiving from everyone, and we are so grateful that so many care and share our grief." Though overcome with pain, anguish and grief, she is proud of her son and what he accomplished, she wrote.

"He was an astounding young man and he will live forever in my heart and soul," she wrote.

Zapasnik was the 451st soldier killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington.

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