Jackson County’s First Iraq War Casualty Remembered As A Son, Husband, Father
Speakers at the funeral for Staff Sergeant Shaun J. Whitehead Saturday used the word “hero” on more than one occasion.
But they used it only in passing reference to Whitehead’s military service in Iraq. Instead, speakers employed the word “hero” to describe Whitehead as a son, a husband and a father, and to underscore the strength and compassion shown by his widow, Janie Moore Whitehead, in support of the wives of other soldiers.
A crowd of about 200 attended services Saturday morning at Grove Level Baptist Church. Scores of others, mostly veterans who escorted Whitehead’s body to and from the church, stood guard outside.
Whitehead, 24, was killed by a roadside bomb Thursday, April 24, while on foot patrol in Iskandariyah, Iraq. He is Jackson County’s first soldier to die in the Iraq war.
Although it was a full military funeral and all of the speakers were connected to the Army, the focus Saturday morning was on the former Commerce High School student’s love of his family and theirs of him and the respect for and from his comrades in arms.
Scott McCosh, chaplain, thanked the “biological and Army families of Staff Sgt. Shaun Whitehead” for their attendance, and remarked that “We have come to grieve and to cry, and also to remember and honor - indeed, to smile and laugh as we celebrate the life of Shaun.”
It was the chaplain’s wife, Paula McCosh, however, who set the tone.
“There is more than one hero in the Whitehead family,” she stated.
McCosh added that while she did not know Shaun, she knew his wife, Janie Moore Whitehead, well.
“Shaun would tell you she was his hero,” she remarked. “She is our hero.” She spoke of how Mrs. Whitehead served others whose husbands were in Iraq, “with humor, encouragement and food.”
Mrs. McCosh also read comments prepared by Mrs. Whitehead, who called Shaun her “husband, a father and my best friend.” She said the 10 years of their relationship were the “happiest of my life.”
“The love that Shaun and I have is something that only comes around once in a lifetime,” she remarked. “I’m just so incredibly lucky I got my chance with him.”
Mrs. Whitehead’s remarks spoke of the bond of love shared in the family, but also to his “brothers in arms.”
“He loved all of them,” she said. “He was so proud to be fighting alongside you, or just having a beer with you. You guys are and always will be part of our family. Shaun considered himself lucky to know you all and to be part of something that was bigger than all of us.”
She spoke of the sadness, but also of cherishing his memory.
“Shaun was my everything,” she said. “I will miss him every moment of every day. Shaun will live on with me and our children. He will always be remembered for what he truly was, a hero, and I love you.”
She spoke of his pride in being a parent, and of “the woman Janna was becoming and the man that Gabe will become.”
Mrs. McCosh also read the comments from Shaun’s mother, Rebecca Whitehead of Maysville, who noted that from the moment Shaun was born “going down the hall to the delivery room” ... “he has had the desire to live life to its fullest capacity, never reckless, always respectful.”
“My son was an exceptional person. I am so very, very fortunate that there is not a shred of doubt about my love for him or his love for me,” she added.
McCosh recalled when Whitehead and his men gave up their Thanksgiving dinner to members of the Iraqi army, men “who were seeking the same thing he was.”
He compared Whitehead to the Old Testament hero Joshua, who also had a scouting mission and who was one of only two of the 12 Hebrew scouts who reported that the promised land could be taken, in spite of the obstacles.
“Like Shaun, when others said it couldn’t be done, he gritted his teeth and got going,” McCosh said.
Whitehead, who had recently been chosen a squad leader, understood that he could not go it alone, said McCosh, and like Joshua, drew on God’s promise to Joshua that “I will be with you.”
“Shaun understood that leadership is about focusing on the soldier. His plan was simple,” said McCosh. “Be strong and be courageous ... whatever comes to me I will face.”
To the family, McCosh said: “May you take hope today in a promise made to a scout generations ago that holds today. I will be with you.”
Escorted by Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles, the motorcade took Whitehead to Center Grove Baptist Church, Pendergrass, for interment.
Whitehead’s body had arrived in Jackson County Friday morning, escorted from Ben Epps Field in Athens by law enforcement officials and veterans on flag-draped motorcycles. At Nicholson, citizens lined the street, and the band from East Jackson Comprehensive High School played. In Commerce, the streets were also lined with flag-waving citizens who stood silently. As the motorcade turned on Jefferson Road, it passed students from Commerce High School, and in front of Commerce Middle School students lined the highway displaying flags and signs that said “Thank you,” as band director Jack Balthazor played “Taps.”
He is survived by his widow, Janie Moore Whitehead, son, Gabriel “Gabe” Whitehead, and daughter, Janna Moore, all of Fort Campbell, KY; his mother, Rebecca Whitehead, Maysville; a sister, Amber Whitehead, Maysville; and his grandfather, Coy O’Shields, Maysville.
For more on this story see this week's editions of The Commerce News and The Jackson Herald.