Amesbury soldier dies in Iraq

It was Jordan Shay’s second tour of duty in Iraq. It was Jordan Shay’s second tour of duty in Iraq. (Wbz-Tv)
By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / September 5, 2009

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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 yesterday about the loss of her nephew, who was serving with the Army. “He was a ray of sunshine.’’

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts National Guard said Specialist Shay, 22, was killed in a vehicle accident Thursday near Baquba, where his Stryker Brigade, assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington state, was deployed. Details of the crash were not immediately available, but Shay’s family said another soldier was also killed.

Shay left in August for Iraq, his second tour of duty there since enlisting in 2006, his family said.

Shay grew up on Old County Street in Amesbury, was a 2005 graduate of Amesbury High School, and was planning to ask his longtime girlfriend, identified by Palmer only by her first name, Kelsey, to marry him when he returned stateside.

His father, Michael, died of cancer when he was 2 years old, and he was raised by his mother, Holly, who was too brokenhearted to speak with reporters yesterday, Palmer said.

“My sister, Holly, will never be a grandmother. She will not know her daughter-in-law,’’ said Palmer, standing outside her sister’s home in Newburyport. “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. Shay was a vegan when he enlisted, and to prepare himself for the Army, he ordered a steak, cheese, and onion sub so he could get used to eating meat, Edmands recalled.

“He wanted to do something for his country,’’ 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,’’ Kenny Fitzpatrick said of Shay’s enlistment. “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 yesterday that Shay was a bulwark for her family several years ago when her oldest sister died in a car crash. Shay was a pallbearer then, but more important, aided them in their time of grief.

“He will be missed very, very much,’’ Wilkin said.

She described her younger brother, Greg, as Shay’s best friend, saying he had sent Shay a text message just last week. Greg Wilkin could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Vicki Wilkin said she learned about Shay’s death from her relatives. “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 war on terror. On Sept. 1, 2005, Army Lieutenant Derek Hines was killed in Afghanistan. Hines grew up in Amesbury and Newburyport.

Shay’s mother was reluctant to see her son join the Army at a time when the nation is at war, Palmer said, but once he had made up his mind, his mother supported his choice.

“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.’’

And, 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 yesterday.