10 years after son's death, mother finds strength to visit Ga. gravesite

By ROB WHEARY | The (Shamokin, Pa.) News-Item | Published: May 31, 2014

Joyce Scheetz's voice still cracks with emotion when she speaks about her son, taken from the world too soon in defense of freedom.

Ten years ago today, U.S. Army Capt. Robert E. Scheetz Jr., originally from Paxinos and a battalion intelligence officer with the 1st Armored Division, died from injuries sustained one day earlier in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He suffered the fatal injuries when a vehicle in which he was riding struck an improvised explosive device (IED) in Musayyib, Iraq.

"I'll never forget it," Joyce Scheetz said Thursday by phone during a break while traveling to Fort Benning, Ga., with her daughter, Hope. "We've grown, though, since then. It's something that I thought I would never get through, but I'm strong enough to do it."

Fort Benning 'home'

Scheetz, of Paxinos, decided to go to Fort Benning this weekend because of what it meant to her son.

"That was his first Army base," Scheetz said. "He served at other bases longer, but he always considered Fort Benning home."

The 31-year-old Army captain and 1990 graduate of Shamokin Area High School not only started his training there, but "his life" as well with his wife, Jennifer.

Joyce Scheetz said it was Jennifer who fought for her husband to be buried at Fort Benning rather than Arlington National Cemetery, where the military wanted to lay him to rest.

"I went to a ceremony at Arlington for Rob, and after being there, I'm so glad Jennifer has him at Fort Benning. He's under a big oak tree there, and it's so beautiful and peaceful. Arlington seems so cold," Scheetz said.

A plaque at the flagpole at city hall in Shamokin salutes the service of Capt. Scheetz and fellow Shamokin Area graduate Sgt. Matthew J. Sandri, a combat medic serving with the 82nd Airborne Division who was killed two months before Scheetz on March 20, 2004, by a rocket attack at a medical facility in Fallujah, Iraq.

'Worst nightmare'

This weekend's trip marks Joyce Scheetz's first time visiting her son's grave in five years, and her first trip without her husband, Robert Scheetz Sr., who died in 2012.

"We were down five years ago. It was my husband's last trip before he died, and we made it together," she said.

She said she'll spend today with Hope and Jennifer in remembrance of her late son.

"This was my worst nightmare," Scheetz said. "I never thought I could bury a child, but I got through it and survived."

His death, in a war she has been critical of in the past, is something she can't forget.

"You never get over it, but you just have to put it aside and keep going," she said.

One thing that helps is the fact that her son died doing what he loved to do - serve with the U.S. Army. She remembered a conversation they had when the family visited him in Germany at Christmas 2003.

"I can remember being so mad about something, but he told me, 'Mom, I get up and go play every day. You always told me to be the best at whatever I do, and this is what I want to do.'"

"You can't argue with that," she said. "That's what he loved to do, he was good at it, and he just wanted to serve."


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