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Classmate remembers fallen soldier during final homecoming

11:53 PM, Nov 29, 2012   |    comments
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People lined the streets Thursday to welcome home the body of U.S. Army field medic Zachary Shanafelt.

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WZZM) - Creston High School graduate Brandi Cook says it's hard for her to accept the death of her friend and classmate, U.S. Army field medic Zachary Shanafelt.

"Seeing him in a hearse is hard," she says. "That hit the hardest. That hurt the most."

Thursday afternoon, Cook was standing on N. Monroe Street in Rockford as a procession carried the body of Shanafelt, 24, from Gerald R. Ford International Airport to Pederson Funeral Home.

Both Cook and Shanafelt graduated from Creston High School in 2006.

"I'll never forget when I first met him," she says with a smile. "He walked up to me on the front steps of the school. 'Hi, I'm Zack,' he said in the loudest possible way. He was never quiet. I knew he was a great person from the moment I met him. [He had] crazy red hair and a big smile on his face."

Shanafelt was hurt in an accident last year in Afganistan. He died last week at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, where he was a patient.

Shanafelt leaves behind a wife and 13-month-old son.

"It has to be hard for his family, especially his son," says Cook. He's going to grow up not knowing him, he's not going to have that father son interaction."

The government has not released details about the accident that hurt Shanafelt.  He was injured five months after arriving in Afghanistan.

"He always cared about everyone else and put others before himself," recalls Cook. "If someone was in trouble he was always there to help you. I'll always remember how he was. I'll never forget it."

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