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A debt of gratitude

By all accounts, the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage applied in abundance to Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Sheperty.

The Maryland resident and member of the West Virginia Army National Guard met a tragic death miles from home on Wednesday, when he passed away during parachuting training at the Suffolk Executive Airport. He was 36.

Sheperty was a member of the elite Green Berets and served as a senior weapons sergeant within his unit. He joined the West Virginia Army National Guard in 2010. Prior to that, he served with the U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command after enlisting in 2002 and serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was the recipient of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Navy/Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon and NATO medal, among numerous other awards and decorations.

But medals and awards only tell part of the story. Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, got choked up during a Thursday afternoon press conference when he talked about Sheperty’s devotion to his country, which Sheperty exemplified through his service.

Sheperty’s service on multiple tours of duty with the Marines, and volunteerism for the Special Operations Command, would have satisfied the debt most people felt they owed to their country. But even after his service in the Marines, Sheperty returned for more service in the National Guard and again signed up for special operations. He ultimately laid down his life in service to his country.

Hoyer said he is telling everyone that they can live out the Army values in their own lives as a way of paying tribute to Sheperty and his family. Sheperty was an exception “in a world and a country that has lost its focus on values,” he said, and everyone could be more loyal, have more sense of duty, be more respectful, do more selfless service, be more honorable, and have more integrity and personal courage, just like Sheperty.

We couldn’t agree more. And we’d also like to pay tribute to another group of people who Hoyer took time to pay great respect to — the men and women of Suffolk Fire & Rescue and the Suffolk Police Department, who responded to the scene yesterday and made their best efforts. Like Hoyer said, we all owe them, as well as Sheperty, “a debt of gratitude.”