Sunday, August 27, 2006

Army Specialist Shaun A. Novak

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Shaun A. Novak, 21, of Two Rivers, Wis.

Spc. Novak and 3 other Soldiers died in Taji, Iraq, on Aug 27, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their M2A3 Bradley Vehicle during combat operations. All soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. Also killed were Sgt. Moises Jazmin, 25, of Providence, R.I., Spc. Qixing Lee, 20, of Minneapolis, Minn., and Spc. Tristan C. Smith, 23, of Bryn Athyn, Pa.

Herald Times News -- TWO RIVERS — News of the death in Iraq of Army Pfc. Shaun Novak, 21, rolled across his hometown Monday, shocking and saddening those who knew him.

Novak died when his armored vehicle was hit by a roadside explosion, family members said. His parents, Randy and Brenda Novak, said they were notified Sunday, but declined further comment.

One former teacher characterized Novak's death as a "devastating loss."

"He had so much potential," said Ruth Kadow, who was Novak's fifth-grade teacher at J.F. Magee Elementary School in Two Rivers.

The father of Novak's best friend said the news was "very difficult" to take.

"Shaun was the greatest kid in the world," said John Monka, a Vietnam veteran whose son, Brandon, was a lifelong friend of Novak and is serving a tour of duty in Baghdad. "He was a kid who had everything going for him, and he was very personable and intelligent."

Monka said his son "followed Shaun into the service (Army) last summer."

"They grew up together from little kids on," Monka said. "They worked, played, hung out together."

Monka said he visited Randy and Brenda Novak on Monday afternoon.

"I stopped over to see the parents," Monka said. "They're grieving. They were both young when they had their kids. Two very nice children.

"I was talking with Randy and saying we expect, as parents, that our kids will bury us, not the other way around. They're taking it very, very hard."

Monka sent an e-mail to his son Monday, and said Brandon usually calls when he's able. He wasn't sure if Brandon had heard news of Novak's death, and said he's been worried about both boys since they were sent overseas.

"He was well-liked," Monka said of Shaun. "People are shocked. With how small the community is, lots of people have ties; it's shocking."

Monka said his son and Novak wanted to attend college when their military duties were complete.

"I'm having a hard time with it," Monka said. "It makes me very scared as a father. I pray that nothing happens to Brandon. I don't know how I could take it."

Novak's aunt, Sheila Halverson, said her nephew had been in Iraq since last December.

Halverson did not know what unit Novak was serving in, but said it was out of Fort Hood, Texas, and he had been in the infantry.

Novak's father, Randy, is a Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department deputy; his mother, Brenda, is an employee of the Manitowoc County Human Services Department; and a brother, Danny, 15, enters Two Rivers High School this fall, Halverson said.

Shaun Novak enlisted in the Army in 2004 and was shipped to Iraq in December 2005, his aunt said. Novak was a 2003 graduate of Two Rivers High School. Halverson says he attended the UW-Center in Manitowoc for a year before enlisting and had plans to pursue his education in accounting or marketing.

Novak was "a very strong business student" and had "a love for business," said Cathy Lambries, Novak's business education teacher at Two Rivers High School.

Lambries said that Novak was "very quiet," but always had his work done.

"His work ethic is beyond what you find in the youth today," Lambries said.

Lambries said she tried to get Novak to join the Future Business Leaders of America at school, but he preferred to work and earn money.

Novak worked at Port Sandy Bay, a restaurant in Two Rivers, for a little more than two years and was an "all-around worker" who represented the business well, said Kadow, who is one of the owners of the restaurant.

"He was very dependable, awesome with customers and a joy to work with," Kadow said. "He was an excellent role-model for other employees."

She said she'll miss seeing him mature and grow as an adult.

Hinhlina Phouybanhdyt, Novak's high school math teacher, said Novak also loved cars, spending his salary on his Dodge Neon. They exchanged tips, ideas and stories about cars, Phouybanhdyt said.

Ridgley Schott, Two Rivers High School principal, said he learned of Novak's death when he arrived at the high school early Monday.

Schott said he was shocked and had hoped such news would never come to Two Rivers.

"But here we are," Schott said. "When something like this happens, you just don't quite know what to say."

Novak enjoyed working on cars outside of school, Schott said.

"He was all excited about driving a Hummer" in the military, added Ellen Johnson, the high school's attendance secretary whose son Kurt was Novak's friend.

Schott said Novak had done particularly well in business education at Two Rivers High School.

"He was a quiet, solid student," the principal said. "If he was a soldier like he was a student, he did it well."

Johnson said Novak had last visited home in April.

"He was glad to be there and do what he had to do" in Iraq, she said. "But he was looking forward to coming home."

Novak had expected to return from Iraq for good at Thanksgiving, Halverson said, but was supposed to serve another year in the Army at Fort Hood.

Municipal and school flags were hung at half-staff Monday by a special order, said Fire Chief Kevin Timm, who has some connections to the Novak family. An uncle stood up in his wedding, he said, and his family also knows the family of Novak's girlfriend.

"I think having hit so close to home changes people's perspective," he said. "Just like the firefighter who died in Green Bay, it heightens awareness."

Firefighter and paramedic Arnie Wolff died Aug. 13 fighting a fire in a Green Bay home. People from all over the state attended his funeral later that week.

Phil Rohrer, who owns a Two Rivers diner, said casualties are never easy to take.

"It's too bad," he said. "It's the price of freedom that my grandpa and father paid.

"I remember when one of my high school buddies was killed in the Vietnam War. It was one of the first war casualties to hit me personally.

"I was shocked. But we're also glad these soldiers are willing to pay the price for freedom. It seems like every generation has to go through their sadness for freedom."

Two Rivers resident Walter Vogl expressed sympathy for the family.

"Even though we didn't know him, that news is always sad," he said. "We all hope these boys haven't died in vain."

"It's heartbreaking," said Janice Puls of Two Rivers. "Your heart goes out to the family. When it hits home, you feel like it's family."

Specialist Shaun A. Novak was killed in action on 08/27/06.

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