33 & 34 years old from Valdosta, Georgia
2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade, Georgia Army National Guard
July 24, 2005 & July 30, 2005
Sgt. Ronnie "Rod" Shelley and Sgt. John F. Thomas became best friends in the Georgia Army National Guard.
They both were ex-Marines, both about the same age, and both enjoyed searching for arrowheads and fishing together. As their friendship grew, Thomas often came over to Shelley’s house for steaks and ribs barbecued by his friend. And when their infantry unit was sent to Iraq in May of 2005, they went to war together.
When their unit was mobilized for combat duty in Iraq, Shelley promised to watch out for Thomas. "Ronnie said, 'Don't you worry, I'll bring him back safely,"' said Thomas' grandfather. But neither Sgt. Thomas or Sgt. Shelley made it back safely. Sgt. Thomas was killed July 24, 2005 by a roadside bomb near Baghdad. And Sgt. Shelley was killed six days later on July 30 by another roadside bomb, also near Baghdad.
Shelley was a family man, married with three children, who was obsessed with having a neat yard, his wife said. "The grass had to be two inches," she said. "If the neighbor mowed the grass, Rod had to mow. He also wanted the biggest, baddest lawn mower."
She said she fell in love with his "gorgeous blue ... eyes," and "he had a laid back attitude. I could not make him mad."
Thomas was married but had no children. His grandparents said he dreamed of becoming a forest ranger. "John wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Now the only trail he can walk is the trail in heaven," the grandfather said.
Mrs. Thomas, wiping back tears, said the soldier felt responsible for the others in his unit. "He cared for people," she said. "That's why he had so many friends. People cared for him."
Killed alongside Sgt. Shelley were Staff Sgt. David R. Jones Sr., Sgt. 1st Class Victor A. Anderson and Sgt. Jonathon C. Haggin and killed alongside Sgt. Thomas were Army Spc. Jacques E. Brunson, Army Staff Sgt. Carl R. Fuller and Army Sgt. James O. Kinlow.
These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.
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