Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Army Pfc. Zachary S. Salmon

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Zachary S. Salmon, 21, of Harrison, Ohio

Pfc. Salmon was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Jan. 12, 2011 in Kunar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire.

The body of a soldier who recently moved back to the Tri-State will return to the United States. 21 year old Pfc. Zachary Salmon was a gunner in an armored vehicle and was fatally shot when the vehicle was attacked in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

His sister, Kelsi, says the family was told on Wednesday afternoon. The last time she talked to him was on Monday. "He was in good spirits," she said. "He had his ups and downs during the whole tour, but mostly he was in good spirits."

Pfc. Salmon grew up in Ohio, but he moved to Tennessee as a teenager and graduated from Pigeon Forge High School in 2008. After graduating he returned to the Tri-State and spent a year living in Hebron, Kentucky with his mother. His father lives in Hamilton. He enlisted in March of 2010 and was deployed in September.

"I remember Zack being a good student," said John Griffis, Pigeon Forge High School counselor. "He would stop and see us at the guidance office every now and then. I remember him as a good person." A moment of silence was held in Zack's honor before the Pigeon Forge/Gibbs boy's basketball game Thursday night at Pigeon Forge High School.

Salmon joined the Army in March 2010 and he was deployed in September. His sister says he considered his service his calling in life. "Everyone was so proud of him," said Salmon. "He was very, very loved."

Pfc. Salmon's aunt, Christine Craig of Lawrenceberg tells Local 12 his mother and father are going to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. They plan to be there when his remains arrive. Craig says her nephew will be buried at Riverview Cemetery in Aurora, Indiana but his services have not been set yet. Part of Pfc. Salmon's family has lived in Pigeon Forge for the past eight years, but most of them still live in the Tri-State.

"He's not going to be at our family functions," Craig said. "It's just that a hole that he's going to leave because he is larger than life." Another aunt, Denise Hogue, says Salmon's good friend and fellow soldier Joseph Frank was there when Salmon was killed.

"[Salmon] looked in [Frank's] eyes as if he was letting them down. He felt him getting killed was him letting his fellow soldiers down," Hogue said. "That to me is a hero."

"He was such a wonderful, loving father," Craig said. "He adored Noah. It was fun to see him with Noah. Zach made everything fun."

Craig says Salmon's mother, Rene Cross, can't believe she's lost her son. "That's one of her babies, and that's something no mother anywhere should have to deal with," Craig said. "Knowing that her baby has a baby that's not going to know his dad just tears her up."

On an evening nearly cold enough to freeze a teardrop, about 60 people gathered at Patriot Park in Sevier County to grieve and light a candle for a soldier who gave his all.

Army Pfc. Zachary Salmon, 21 and the father of a 3-year-old boy, took a sniper's bullet Wednesday in Afghanistan, wearing a tattoo on his leg that says, "Life is but a vapor," a reference to a favorite passage of Scripture, James 4:14.

"He was in a vehicle sitting when it was attacked," said Keely McCarter, Salmon's fiance, who with her mother and grandmother organized the candlelight vigil Friday evening in Pigeon Forge. "They couldn't shut the door in time."

A few dozen solemn mourners - many, if not most, strangers to the soldier - stood in the frigid park to hear Salmon eulogized by Earlene Teaster, Pigeon Forge city manager, and others who had known the 2008 Pigeon Forge High School graduate.

Teaster called him "a fine, fine young man" and spoke of his spiritual nature, saying he had told McCarter that, based on his faith, he was not worried about what might happen. He said he would be "A-OK," Teaster said. "Zack is A-OK now."

Candles provided a warm glow to a memorial stand that included pictures of Salmon and McCarter, and those in attendance also held candles in his memory. McCarter wept softly throughout the vigil.

Shirley Harmon, McCarter's grandmother, said Salmon's mother was the best friend of her daughter, Andrea Weddington, McCarter's mother.

Weddington said following the brief memorial that Salmon was "loving and giving" and she looked forward to having him as a son-in-law.

"He always put others first," she said. "He had questions about what to do with his life" and how best to be a father to Noah, 3, whose mother is a former girlfriend of Salmon's.

"His world was built around his son," Weddington said. "He was remarkable."

Salmon was scheduled to return in April, McCarter said, and the couple planned to be married in September.

During the memorial, members of the groups spontaneously sang a verse of "America the Beautiful," and Vanessa Mayes, a family friend, read from a poem she wrote for Salmon titled "One in a Million."

The poem includes the lines "You taught us how to live/How to appreciate our freedom/How to appreciate another day/How to appreciate a friend, a brother, a son, a father, a hero."

Army Pfc. Zachary S. Salmon was killed in action on 1/12/11.

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