Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Shawn Gajdos remembered

Local family members of a Grand Rapids man killed in Iraq reminisced Tuesday about the son and brother who had always dreamed of being in the military.

Shawn Gajdos, 25, was killed June 6 in an ambush in Baghdad, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

"We're looking at pictures of him right now when he was a child," said his sister, Tammie DenBoer. She noted that many of the pictures showed him wearing different T-shirts with a military theme. "Ever since he was a kid, this is what he wanted to do."

DenBoer and her siblings, Chandra Tingley and Derek Gajdos, had gathered with other family members to share memories prior to the funeral service for Shawn, which will be held Friday in Grand Rapids. Chandra and Derek are Spring Lake High School graduates.

Their father, Anthony (Blackmer) Gajdos of West Olive, said it was difficult to lose the son he had only reconciled with barely two years ago.

"I wasn't involved when he grew up — but when you have children, there's like an invisible thread that goes from you to them," the father said. "When they die, the thread is snapped. You feel that."

Anthony Gajdos said he wished his son had not died, but he was proud that he had served.

"My son had an attitude," he said. "It was 'if not me, then who' and 'if not now, then when?'"

DenBoer said that her brother was a giver.

"If you needed it, he'd buy you dinner," she said.

DenBoer said a friend that needed a place to stay for a night or two would end up being given a "home" for a few months, with nothing expected in return. The only thing Shawn ever wanted was to make sure he was helping someone, she said.

While in Iraq, the only thing he wanted to do was make a difference, DenBoer said.

Shawn attended Gateway High School in Grand Rapids and later obtained his GED, his sister said.

The last time DenBoer had talked to her brother was a couple of weeks ago when he told her he had taken a position as a gunner, different from his last job of driving humvees for officials.

Shawn was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan.

DenBoer said she never understood the dangers of her brother's new job.

"He didn't elaborate," she said.

DenBoer said the last time a family member talked to Shawn was June 3 when he said he had just gotten back from a mission. He had a couple of days off before going on his next mission.

That's when his unit was ambushed.

"We were told the bomb came first and that distracted them," DenBoer said. "And they were ambushed. It was a shock."

Funeral arrangements for Shawn are being handled by Cook Funeral Home, 4235 Prairie St. SW in Grand Rapids. Visitation will be held Thursday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at the funeral home. The service is set for 11 a.m. Friday at the First Assembly of God, 2100 44th St. SW in Wyoming.

Shawn is survived by his father, Anthony (Patti Austin) Gajdos of West Olive; his mother, Brenda Richards of Grand Rapids; brother, Derek (Candi) Gajdos of Fruitport; and sisters, Tammie (Kyle) DenBoer of Grand Rapids and Chandra (Christopher) Tingley of Seattle, Wash.

From the Grand Haven Tribune

Related Link:
Shawn D. Gajdos dies 'of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked by insurgents using improvised explosive devices and small arms fire'