Fun-filled life will be soldier's legacy
Published on Wednesday, December 7, 2005
in the Ft. Myers News-Press
With a twinkle in his eye and a prank up his sleeve, Jimmy Lee Shelton endeared himself to nearly all he met.
"My classes always teased me about hating cats," said April Holt, 27, who taught Shelton at Gunnery Road Christian Academy in 1999. "One day, at Christmas time, he caught a stray cat, put it in a box and wrapped it up, leaving holes for the cat to breathe. He got a total laugh out of it."
Holt said she remembers the last time she saw Shelton when he came to church for Sunday services in September before he shipped out with the U.S. Army to go to Iraq.
Shelton, 21, died Saturday after his camp was struck by five rounds of mortar fire. Eighteen other soldiers were injured, but only Shelton was killed.
Those who knew and loved Shelton were stunned by his death, but took comfort in the fact he was a devout Christian and they believed him safe with God.
Still, his mother, Billi Jo Shelton, has struggled accepting the fact she will never hold her youngest son again. Shelton, one of two children, is survived by an older brother, Burgess Shelton Jr., 23, and his parents, Billi Jo and Burgess Shelton Sr.
"I want to tell him everything that's happening," said 38-year-old Billi Jo Shelton, sobbing. "I want to share it with him. Who am I going to talk to now?"
"But, we still have him with us," said Burgess Shelton, 40. "We have him in our hearts."
Just days before he was killed, Billi Jo Shelton had talked to her son on the telephone. She told him about the Christmas package she had mailed, containing a DVD player, a stocking and the family joke, two matchbox cars.
Since learning of his death, the Shelton family has asked the military to give the gift package to another soldier who might not receive anything for Christmas.
They also learned that their son had been busy shopping online for presents and expect to receive gifts from him during the next few weeks.
Family members said people from the community have been supportive and have given them comfort.
They were especially pleased to learn that officials from the Florida Highway Patrol are trying to award Shelton the title of honorary trooper posthumously.
Growing up, Shelton wanted to work in law enforcement and joined the Army to make himself more marketable. Family members said he wanted to be a state trooper.
Florida Highway Patrol Cpl. John T. Schultz III said he was touched by Shelton's story because he, too, had considered joining the military to try to parlay that experience into a career with law enforcement but received a job offer before he enlisted.
"It touched me a bit," Schultz said. "Maybe we can do something for the family. It just touched me."
Schultz said troopers are also planning to be at Shelton's funeral, which will take place locally sometime during the next week or so.
Family members said Shelton's body was expected to arrive in Dover, Del., late Tuesday evening, where it will remain for about two days before being flown to Florida.
Family members plan a local ceremony and then Shelton's body will be flown to Virginia for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
No further details on funeral arrangements were available Tuesday.
"His death has affected so many people," said Shelton's maternal grandmother, Bonnie Mahlbacher, 64. "I'd rather have him here, though."
Mahlbacher said one thing that made her grandson remarkable was his respect and affection for senior citizens.
"He looked older people in the eye and loved them," she said. "He had a kind word and a hug for the older ladies at church. That's what amazed me."
Shelton seldom missed church services when he was home.
"Jimmy was at my wedding in 2000," Holt said. "I also taught him how to type on the computer. He grew up here at the church. It was a total shock to me at first. I was thinking, no, not Jimmy, but God wanted him home for a reason, and now he's with the Lord."
Former teacher Jane Bancroft, 50, had Shelton in class during his senior year and still has a poster he made during her health class.
"I kept the poster he made on what to do if someone faints," she said. "He signed it Dr. Jimmy Shelton. He always had a smile and was a little mischievous. He was the only guy in the class, and there was always good-natured kidding on who could get the highest grade."
At Gunnery Road Christian Academy, students and teachers alike prayed daily for Shelton's safety in Iraq until they were told of his death. While they were saddened by the news, it also brought home lessons about mortality and faith, officials said.
Math and science teacher John Vance, 24, grew up with Shelton at the school.
"He was a good kid," Vance said. "No matter what you asked, he turned it into a joke. But, as he grew up, he turned into a good young man. He was still funny, but he understood what he was doing. He was a man and he loved his country."
Return to top
Fallen Alva soldier a trooper forever
Florida Highway Patrol bestows first such honor
Published on Thursday, March 23, 2006
in the Ft. Myers News-Press
U.S. Army Cpl. Jimmy Lee Shelton dreamed of becoming a Florida state trooper, but was killed Dec. 3 in Iraq.
Shelton, 21, of Alva died when his camp in Bayji, Iraq, was struck by mortar fire. Eighteen other soldiers were injured, but only Shelton was killed.
On Wednesday, Shelton became the first person to become a state trooper posthumously.
"We heard he wanted to be a trooper," said FHP Lt. Doug Dodson. "We had troopers in Iraq. It hit close to home."
Troopers forwarded news stories about Shelton to FHP Col. Chris Knight in Tallahassee, and he began the process of recognizing the soldier.
"It's something appropriate," Knight said. "We were touched by his desire to be a trooper. We knew we needed to do the right thing and make him a part of the organization."
During the recognition ceremony, Billi Jo Shelton, 38, fought back tears.
"It's a bittersweet day," she said about the ceremony that honored the boy she raised as a son. "It's happy, but it is sad."
Biological mother Donna Manger, 41, said she wished there had been more time to spend with her son. The two had been estranged for nine years but had begun to reconcile in September.
"I have those moments," she said. "I tend to cry a lot. I have pictures of him on my desk. We didn't have a whole lot of time together."
Burgess Shelton, Jimmy Lee's father, said some days are better than others.
"I know he wanted to get this," he said of the ceremony. "But Jimmy wouldn't want us to be sad."
At the ceremony, both sets of parents were given a black trooper hat, a leadership coin, a certificate, a plaque and a teddy bear.
Knight said there were 1,811 troopers statewide before the ceremony, but that number rose to 1,812 when Jimmy Lee Shelton joined the ranks.
Given what he knew about how the soldier lived, Knight said chances were good that Jimmy would have become a state trooper and graduated from the academy if he had returned from Iraq.
Officials also awarded Shelton honorary membership in the Florida Association of State Troopers.
"Jimmy is looking down, and he is smiling at all of us," said Burgess Shelton, 41. "He was a great kid and a great son."
The family plans to honor his memory again at a barbecue at their Alva home on April 15. It would have been Jimmy's 22nd birthday.
Return to top
Fla. Soldier Remembered For His Faith
Corporal Killed in Iraq Is Buried at Arlington
Published on Saturday, December 17, 2005
in the Washington Post
People who met Cpl. Jimmy L. Shelton could tell right away he was a good-hearted country boy with a quick wit and a sense of humor to match, friends said. But those who had the opportunity to get to know him discovered the 21-year-old soldier also had a profound relationship with Jesus Christ and a sober view of his responsibilities toward God and country, they said.
Shelton, 21, of Lehigh Acres, Fla., died Dec. 3 in Bayji, Iraq, when his base was attacked by mortar fire. He had been trained as a cavalry scout and assigned to the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky.
He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, the 206th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried there.
During a service at the Old Post Chapel, Shelton was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. About 100 mourners then proceeded to the grave site, where Shelton was eulogized by an Army chaplain, Maj. Claude Brittian. Brigadier Gen. Stephen Mundt presented the flag that had draped Shelton's coffin to his father, Burgess Shelton. He also is survived by his mother, Donna Manger, and stepmother, Billi Jo Shelton.
Shelton was born in Belle Glade, Fla.
"We knew he was going to be a faithful soldier for his Christ," said John Vance, 25, a friend who had known Shelton for more than a decade. They attended school together at Gunnery Road Christian Academy in Buckingham, Fla., where Shelton was close friends with Vance's younger sister, Jackie. They also worshiped together at Gunnery Road Baptist Church, where Vance's father, Terry Vance, is pastor.
About 400 people attended a service held in Shelton's memory Tuesday at Riverside Church in Fort Myers, Fla. Terry Vance memorialized Shelton as someone who not only was a good soldier but who also was guided by his unwavering faith.
After his death, Shelton's family learned that he had written the page number for one of his favorite hymns, "He Gave His Life for Me," in his Bible.
During his younger years, Shelton was known as a jokester who was always ready with a prank or sly retort. For example, he wore a pair of Garfield pajamas that he had made in a school sewing class under his robe on graduation day, rather than the suits or formal attire that other students wore. Shelton also was active in athletics. He played basketball and was quarterback of the football team.
Shelton was interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement and studied criminal justice at Bob Jones University for about a year. He returned to Florida to work at a correctional facility and decided to enlist in the Army. He never failed to stop by his former church and school whenever he was home on leave.
Vance said that during his time in the service, Shelton became more serious and matured beyond his years.
"He understood the reality of life and that he might die," Vance said. "He knew he'd been given a lot and knew something was required of him."
Shelton told those close to him that he loved being a soldier. He left for Iraq this year and recently had been promoted to corporal. In the days shortly before his death, he had called most of his close family members and friends and told them he was doing well and believed in his mission.
"God was preparing us, and God was preparing him," Vance said. "We were able to reassure him of our love, too."
Return to top
FHP Honors Fallen Soldier