DUNEDIN — Zack Shannon wasn't afraid to go to Afghanistan. He joined the Army knowing full well that he'd be deployed to a war zone.
He knew the risks of flying in helicopters, but he became a crew chief on a UH-60 Black Hawk chopper anyway.
"He never, ever once expressed fear. Never," his mother, Kim Allison, said Thursday. "The only thing he complained about over there was the cold."
Now Shannon's family is planning a memorial service for him this weekend after he was killed last week in a helicopter crash near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was one of five U.S. soldiers who died in the unexplained crash.
Spc. Shannon, 21, comes from a military family, with his three older brothers, his stepfather and a grandfather all having served. He was deployed to Afghanistan in December for a nine-month tour of duty. He would have been sent there eventually, but he volunteered to go early.
He was a Dunedin native through and through, his family said. Born in Mease Dunedin Hospital, he attended Dunedin Elementary, Middle and High School like his brothers before him.
He played in Dunedin Little League, fished for snook off Dunedin's shoreline and frequented a barbershop on the city's Main Street.
In keeping with his wishes, he'll be buried at Dunedin Cemetery next week instead of Arlington National Cemetery.
Relatives gathered in his parents' living room Thursday to fondly share stories about him.
According to them, Shannon was a joker, a mama's boy, a serious sports fanatic, a crack marksman with a rifle, and a giver of thoughtful Christmas gifts.
His mother recalled talking with him on Skype after he got to Afghanistan.
"We got mortared the other day," he said matter-of-factly.
"What did you do?" she asked, alarmed.
"Slept through it," he answered.
His stepfather, Chip Allison, recalled the time Shannon insisted on wearing a Rocco Baldelli Tampa Bay Rays jersey to a Rays-Phillies game in Philadelphia, cheerfully ignoring hostile Phillies fans while his New Jersey grandfather practically pretended not to know him.
His brother Robert Mirrione recalled Shannon, a Florida Gators fan, keeping a Tim Tebow bobblehead doll in his Army footlocker against regulations. New recruits weren't allowed personal items except for religious ones.
"This is Tim Tebow. This is Jesus," Pvt. Shannon told his commanding officer.
"He made the guy laugh so hard, he let him keep it," Mirrione said.
The family plans an open house-style celebration of Shannon's life from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at VFW Post 2550 at 360 Douglas Ave. in Dunedin.
"People can come and go," Chip Allison said.
A large crowd is expected, although the post holds only about 300 people.
"We can handle it. It's going to be a little tight, but we'll manage," said VFW post commander Dutch Grubbs.
A private family funeral will be held Wednesday.
At Sunday's service, the family will sell fundraising wristbands for a scholarship that it's establishing in Shannon's name. The scholarship's recipient each year will be the Dunedin High ROTC's best sharpshooter.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.