Miami-Dade County

Sharing stories of an Army buddy and a 9/11 child on Memorial Day

Capt. Michael Shepherd (center) poses with Afghan residents while serving with the U. S. Army in 2013.
Capt. Michael Shepherd (center) poses with Afghan residents while serving with the U. S. Army in 2013.

Capt. Michael Shepherd wears a bracelet on his right wrist.

The black aluminum band is roughly an inch wide, with a name and a date printed in white block letters.

Each day, the 27-year-old captain wears the bracelet to honor Jordan Morris, his mentor who died in combat in Afghanistan nearly five years ago.

“Looking at Jordan’s bracelet is a constant reminder to me of the level of sacrifice people are making for us,” Shepherd said. “You’ve got to remember it.”

On Monday, Shepherd will share Morris’ story when he speaks at the Miami Shores Village Memorial Day service. Shepherd, who served nine months in Afghanistan as a cavalry squadron platoon leader, said he wants to remind people of the significance of Memorial Day.

“I like talking about Jordan,” said Shepherd, who grew up in Miami Shores. “And I think his story and the other ones we honor on Memorial Day are important.”

West Point connection

Russell Shepherd is still in awe of his son’s Army career.

“His story is so amazing,” he said, remembering a “chubby little fellow” who was afraid of anything, from scary movies to carnival rides.

But 9/11 changed everything for Shepherd, who was in seventh grade at the time. The attack left him stunned but planted a seed of service to the country.

“He’s always had a strong sense of duty, and he’s a patriot,” Russell said. “He loves his country. He loves his people.”

Later an Eagle Scout and offensive lineman at Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory in Fort Lauderdale, he applied to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was accepted. It was there that he met Morris, who was a year ahead of him in school.

“He took me under his wing and protected me from the upperclassmen,” said Shepherd, who majored in American history.

After graduating in May 2011 as a second lieutenant, he was sent to Fort Stewart in Georgia, quickly becoming the 3rd platoon leader for A troop 6-8 Cavalry Squadron. He led the platoon through multiple training exercises in both Georgia and Texas as they prepared for an inevitable mission overseas.

In February 2013, Shepherd and his platoon were deployed to eastern Afghanistan, tasked with stopping rockets being fired near a major Afghan highway.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “The experience of combat and leading soldiers was something very few people get to experience.”

His family rallied the community back home, mailing more than 20 boxes of school supplies so Shepherd and his platoon could help an Afghan boys’ school. They tried to text and FaceTime as much as they could, hoping that he would make it home alive.

“I could never do it,” said Catherine, Shepherd’s 16-year-old sister. “He came out strong, and that’s amazing to me.”

Every member of his platoon returned in November 2013 after more than 240 combat missions. He then taught cadets at West Point before being stationed near Savannah, Georgia.

Shepherd returned with numerous awards, including a bronze star.

“The biggest thing for me is that even though I’m his father, he’s my hero in so many different ways — what he’s accomplished, just him as a person and his character,” Russell said. “He’s my hero.”

Speaking on Memorial Day

Monday marks Shepherd’s fourth and final time speaking at the Memorial Day service.

He was first asked to speak in 2011, just one week after his graduation from West Point.

“I think too often Memorial Day gets wrapped up as a long weekend or a time when there’s discounts at department stores,” he said. “I think it’s important for our children to understand why we have our American life.”

Shepherd returned in 2012 and 2015 to speak, each time emphasizing the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day and the need to remember the lives lost on a battlefield.

“He’s an excellent speaker, very on point with his discussion and his speeches,” said Tom Benton, the Miami Shores village manager. “We’re very proud that he wants to come back to his community and give back.”

This year, Shepherd plans on intertwining four lives together — his own and Morris’, his sister’s and the life of Christine Lee Hanson, the youngest victim of the 9/11 attacks. She was 2  1/2 years old and flying with her parents, Peter and Sue Kim Hanson, on United Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The family was flying from Boston to Los Angeles to visit relatives of her mother.

Shepherd wants to show the audience, particularly the children, the lives that Jordan Morris and Christine Lee Hanson could have had.

“There are people who don’t get their dads to walk them down the aisle because there are threats to our way of life,” Shepherd said. “It’s about the remembering part.”

Returning to civilian life

In just under three months, Shepherd will be a civilian.

He will have served his country for five years, three months and two days before he will begin working toward another kind of service — law school at Nova Southeastern University.

He’ll continue to wear Morris’ bracelet, asking himself what Jordan would have done as he studies for exams, fishes with his father and intimidates his sister’s boyfriends.

“I’ve seen death, I’ve held my friends’ day-old babies, I’ve felt American soil beneath my feet after nine months of combat,” Shepherd said. “For Jordan, he doesn’t get that. His story ended at 23.”

For that reason, the Memorial Day event will never lose its importance for Shepherd, even when he hears someone else speak next year.

“As a veteran, it’ll be nice to sit back and hear a different perspective,” Shepherd said. “It’s time to let someone else speak.”

If you go

What: Miami Shores Village Memorial Day Ceremony. A day of remembrance featuring guest speaker Michael Shepherd, a captain in the U.S. Army.

When: 9 a.m. Monday, Memorial Park, Northeast Second Avenue and 94th Street. Free. In case of rain, the ceremony will be held at the Community Center, 9617 Park Dr.

Information: Call 305-758-8103 or 305-762-4851.

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