Soldier honored for legacy of selfless service

Published 09/08 2013 10:02PM

Updated 09/09 2013 01:15PM

URBANA -- Family and friends gathered at the University of Illinois campus for a special ceremony Sunday. A memorial was made to honor a former student who died while serving overseas.

Sergeant Shawna Morrison was the first woman from the Illinois National Guard to die in Iraq. Even before Shawna started going to the University of Illinois, she knew she wanted to serve.

"She liked to listen," said Shawna's mom, Cynthia Morrison. "She loved people. She loved to laugh. She loved to pull pranks. Oh boy. She just loved life."

"She just loved making everybody else's life better," said Shawna's brother, Allan Morrison. "It made her life better."

Following in the footsteps of many of her family members, Shawna signed up for the National Guard.

"She had to show me up," said Shawna's dad, Richard Morrison. "She could shoot better than me."

She served in Iraq with members of the 1544th Transportation Company almost a decade ago.

"You relive those days all the time," said Master Sergeant Heather Gill, who served with Shawna. "So even though they say it's been nine years, it was just yesterday for me."

"She embodied what it means to be a citizen soldier," said Major Brandon Tackett, who served with Shawna. "To volunteer yourself, to defend the country, to wear the uniform and live a life of service."

That life was cut short nine years ago when she died in a mortar attack.

"They say time heals all wounds," said Master Sgt. Gill. "And it does to a point, but you still never completely get over it."

So instead, they're honoring her life with a stone outside Lincoln Hall.

"I think she'd really like it," said Cynthia. "I can imagine her just nodding her head."

"It's a great honor," said Richard.

Even though that honor doesn't take away the sting of Shawna's death, her family says she'll always be their hero.

"Now that I have a son and I'm older than her, it really puts in perspective what kind of sacrifice she had to make and it's an honor to call her my sister," said Allan.

Shawna majored in psychology while she was at the University of Illinois. Her family says she always wanted to make a career out of serving in the National Guard.

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