Family unites at soldier's funeral service
By Terry Hillig
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Army Cpl. Shawn T. Lasswell's wife, Jessica Lasswell, receives a flag that was draped over her husband's coffin at the service.
(By Jerry Naunheim Jr./P-D)
ALTON — A community welcomed Army Cpl. Shawn T. Lasswell Jr. home for the last time on Saturday.
Lasswell, 21, and two other soldiers lost their lives on April 23 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee in Taji, Iraq.
Mourners at a funeral service Saturday praised Lasswell's sacrifice while they struggled to fully understand it.
Lasswell's uncle, the Rev. Bryan Ready, told them Shawn "went willingly into the service of his country knowing he might pay the ultimate price." Ready, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Piasa, thanked God for "the sacrifice he made and that so many others have made so that we can live in freedom."
The outdoor service was held at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1308 in Alton, in front of a veterans' memorial that features a statue of a World War I doughboy.
Flags that had draped Lasswell's casket were presented to his mother, his father and his widow. The service ended with the release of 21 white doves as a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."
On Saturday, Lasswell's mother and wife, who had differed about the funeral arrangements, met for the first time. Before he died, Lasswell's family did not know he was married.
His wife, Army Spc. Jessica Lasswell, arrived in Alton for the service on Saturday morning. She talked with and embraced members of her husband's family outside Staten-Fine Funeral Home before a funeral procession to the VFW post that included about 75 cars and an estimated 200 Patriot Guard motorcycle riders.
The parents didn't know his remains would be coming home until Friday morning. Lasswell and his mother, Cathy Zehren, lived in nearby Cottage Hills before moving to Las Vegas when he was 11. His father, Shawn T. Lasswell Sr., lives in Forest Homes.
Zehren learned after he died that her son had married another soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, only a few days before he was deployed to Iraq in December.
Zehren wanted her son's remains returned to the Alton area, where he grew up and had dozens of relatives. The widow requested burial in Arlington National Cemetery, and the Army initially indicated it would grant the request.
But Army officials decided Friday to return Lasswell's remains to his mother, whom he named executor of his estate before his marriage. The body will be cremated and the ashes divided among the parents and his wife, who may have her portion interred at Arlington in a later ceremony.
"I'm just so glad that I got him here where he was meant to be," his mother said.
Soldier will be interred here
By Terry Hillig
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friends and relatives of Army Cpl. Shawn T. Lasswell Jr. rejoiced Friday after the Army reversed an earlier decision and decided to return his remains to the area where he spent his early youth.
Lasswell, 21, and two other soldiers were fatally injured April 23 when an improvised bomb detonated near their Humvee in Taji, Iraq.
His mother, Cathy Zehren of Las Vegas, learned Friday morning that the Army would return his remains to her for a funeral and cremation in Alton. They lived in nearby Cottage Hills until Shawn was 11.
Unbeknownst to family members, Lasswell married another soldier at Ford Hood in Texas only a few days before shipping out to Iraq in December. His widow asked that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and his mother had been told that request would be honored.
But an Army sergeant called Zehren on Friday morning with word that her son's remains would be turned over to her and would arrive at Lambert Field late Friday night.
Zehren said she was following her son's wishes. She said he had named her the executor of his estate and made her responsible for his final arrangements in documents written on Nov. 30. She said the Army had decided her son had enough time to revise those documents but had not done so.
Friends and relatives who gathered Friday evening at an Alton funeral home were gratified by the Army's change of heart.
"I'm glad he's coming home to lie in rest the way he wanted," his mother said.
Lasswell's father, Shawn Lasswell Sr., lives in Forest Homes, which is near Alton and Cottage Hills.
"I'm so proud of him," his father said. "I wouldn't change anything except for him getting hurt."
Lasswell's widow was expected to attend a memorial service for him today. The Army would not verify her name earlier this week.
Lasswell's aunt, Candy Wharry of Cottage Hills, said her nephew often had spent time with her family before he and his mother moved away. He was fun to be around, "very spontaneous and silly and active," she said.
A funeral procession is scheduled to begin at noon today from Staten-Fine Funeral Home at 220 Court Street in Alton and end at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1308, 4445 Alby Street, where the memorial service is scheduled at 1 p.m.