NEWBURYPORT -- Dawn Palmer couldn't help but smile when talking about her nephew, Jordan Shay, and couldn't help but speak with sadness when she talked about his death in Iraq earlier this week.
"It sickened me,'' Palmer said today about the loss of her 22-year-old nephew who was serving with the US Army. "He was a ray of sunshine.''
The Defense Department announced today that Shay and another soldier were killed in a vehicle rollover in Baqubah, Iraq on Thursday. The soldiers were assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, out of Fort Lewis, Wash. The department said the incident is under investigation.
Shay left in August tor Iraq, his second tour of duty there since enlisting in 2006, his family said.
Shay grew up on Old County Road in Amesbury, was a 2005 graduate of Amesbury High School, and was planning to ask his long-time girlfriend, identified by Palmer only by her first name of Kelsey, to marry him when he returned stateside.
His father, Michael, died of cancer when he was two years old and he was raised by his mother, Holly Shay, who was too brokenhearted to speak with reporters today, said Palmer.
“My sister, Holly, will never be a grandmother. She will not know her daughter-in-law,’’ said Palmer, standing outside her sister's home here. “There is deep sadness. That’s a deep loss."
In Amesbury, neighbors recalled Shay with great affection and smiles. Neighbor John Edmands said he was surprised by Shay's decision to enlist because he didn't seem to be of a military bent. In fact, Shay was a vegan when he enlisted and to prepare himself for the Army he went to get a steak, cheese, and onion sub so that he could get used to eating meat, Edmands recalled.
"He wanted to do something for his country, and he decided that's what he wanted to do," Edmands said.
Another neighbor who considered Shay part of his family expressed sadness at his death. "I think he did it for the excitement, the thrill -- and the challenge," said Kenny Fitzpatrick. "It's a damned shame.''
Shay was especially close to the Wilkin family, who lived next door on Old County Road. Vicki Wilkin, 25, recalled today that Shay was a bulwark for her family several years ago when her oldest sister died in a freak car crash. Shay was a pallbearer then, but most importantly helped with the grieving.
“He will be missed very, very much,’’ Vicki Wilkin said.
She described her younger brother, Greg, as Shay’s best friend, someone who had been texting him during his Iraq deployment just last week. Greg Wilkin could not be reached for comment today.
Vicki Wilkin said that she learned about Shay’s death from her relatives and remains shocked by the news. “It was so surreal. It still is to me,’’ she said. “I feel like he is going to call Greg and laugh and say it is all a big joke.’’
Shay is the second man from Amesbury to die while serving his country in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Sept. 1, 2005, Army Lieutenant Derek Hines was killed in Afghanistan. Hines grew up in Amesbury and Newburyport.
Friends said Shay did not know Hines.
Palmer said Shay's mother was reluctant to see her son join the Army at a time when the nation is at war, but once he had made up his mind, his mother supported his choices.
“Jordan was the most wonderful kid I have ever met. He was kind, he was considerate, he was thoughtful, He was full of adventure,’ Palmer said. “He is greatly missed, but we are also proud of him. We are also proud of the choice he’s made. He died for a very good reason. He died for his country. He loved his country.’’
She added, "now I know the sacrifice and the suffering and the loss that goes along with dying for your country -- and I am still proud of Jordan.''
Funeral arrangements were incomplete today.
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