Zack Shannon had several passions in his short life.
Fishing; sports; and the military, where his dad and three older brothers served.
Following in their footsteps, Shannon, 21, joined the Army in 2010 after graduating from Dunedin High School. He became a helicopter mechanic and deployed to Afghanistan in December, his first trip to the warzone.
“He loved helicopters,” said the Army specialist’s father, Chip Allison, in a phone call from the family’s Dunedin home. “All he wanted to do was fly.”
The family kept in touch, Skypeing when they could, said Allison. Shannon’s mom, Kimberly Allison, would send care packages, full of candy and Play-Doh, to the Kandahar Air Base where he was stationed.
But they had their worries.
“Obviously, we were concerned,” he said. “But he volunteered to go. This is something he wanted to do his whole life.”
On Monday, Shannon was in a Blackhawk helicopter on a training mission flying through bad weather, the Associated Press reported, another trip he volunteered to take.
The helicopter crashed, killing all five aboard, said Allison.
Allison, who served in the Army six years in the ‘90s, said that Tuesday morning, three men in uniform came to the house.
“I knew right away,” he said. “He was on the helicopter that crashed.”
His favorite ballplayer was Rocco Baldelli.
“He has a Rocco jersey and everything,” said Allison.
He even had a baseball bat that Baldelli signed. It was a gift, said Allison, from Ray’s third-base Coach Tom Foley, whom Allison got to know through his job as a lead service technician for Bright House Networks.
Allison said he coached his son’s Little League teams, where he was a pitcher, throwing righty and batting lefty.
“Zack knew a lot about baseball,” said Allison. And he wasn’t shy to share that knowledge.
“He would say, ‘I need to talk to Coach Foley; I have a lot of information to give him,’” said Allison. “He would have no issues walking down to Coach [John] Gruden or John Maddon and give them his opinions.”
“We briefly met some of the other families,” he said. “That was quite difficult. Especially for Florida people. By the time we got out there, it was 8 p.m. It was 30 degrees out on the flight line and the wind was blowing.”
The flight back to Florida brought much-need joviality to a family in sorrow, said Allison.
“We were joking about this,” he said. “We had to fly back from Philadelphia and it was full of Philadelphia people coming to spring training. Zack would have been up in the front of the plane, talking trash to all the Philly fans. He didn’t care.”
Years earlier, visiting his grandparents who live in South Jersey, Shannon ignored warnings and wore his Rays’ jersey to a Phillies’ home game.
“He said, ‘I’m wearing it,’” Allison recalled. “That was Zack.”
The service will take place before Shannon’s body returns from Dover, Allison said, because one of his brothers, Robert Mirrione, 30, is in the Navy and has to return to his base in Seattle, Wash., on Monday or Tuesday.
Steve Shannon, 25, is in the Army National Guard and a third brother, Joe Mirrione, 32, also was in the Army.
“Everybody and anybody is welcome to attend,” Allison said.
Zack Shannon’s body is not expected to return to the area until March 25 at the earliest, said Allison.
The family, he adds, is grateful to all the people who have offered support.
He singled out two particular people: Dunedin Mayor David Eggers and Army MSgt. Anthony Link.
“They have been outstanding with us,” he said.