SPRINGFIELD TWP.: Nicholas “Nick” Westfall walked at 8 months, rode a dirt bike at age 3, caught a 9-foot shark when he was 10 and shot a deer with a crossbow at age 11.
Always a go-getter, he loved being outdoors and he “absolutely loved” being in the Army, his mother said.
So after two tours in the Middle East and talk of moving from the Ohio Army National Guard to active duty, Westfall’s death has left his parents stunned and searching for answers “to a lot of questions.”
Only 13 days after coming home from his second tour in Afghanistan, Westfall, 23, was found dead in his Akron apartment Dec. 29. The Summit County Medical Examiner said the cause of death is undetermined, pending toxicology tests.
Bill and Karyn Westfall said their son will be buried with full military honors at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman at 2 p.m. Friday. He had just been promoted to sergeant.
“You could depend on him for anything,” Karyn Westfall said as she leafed through a photo album at the family’s Springfield Township home. Various pictures show Nick fishing, playing or perched in a tree at nearby Springfield Lake. “He was a good kid.”
After attending Springfield High School, Westfall passed his GED, then joined the Ohio Army National Guard in 2009 with the 112th Engineering Battalion out of Brook Park. He served a tour in Afghanistan, from 2010 to 2011, then joined the 837th Engineer Company out of Lorain so he could volunteer to go back for a second deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, his parents said.
He worked full time at Summit Racing Equipment, was planning to begin taking classes at the University of Akron and spoke of going active duty in the Army. When he returned home from his second deployment, however, “He was definitely a little different,” Bill Westfall said.
In fact, he said, his son told him that in his short time home he had seen a doctor who had referred him to a counselor for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Recalling a happier memory, Westfall’s father said that Nick told his parents he was staying in Texas for a day and not returning to Ohio with his unit, but instead surprised them at home the night of Dec. 16.
“I’ll never forget it,” Bill Westfall said.
By Wednesday afternoon, nearly 80 people, including several who said they had served with Westfall, had posted remembrances on the website of the funeral home that handled his service Tuesday, Hopkins Lawver (www.hopkinslawver.com.)
“I proudly served in Afghanistan with Nicholas,” a retired sergeant wrote. “I fondly called him ‘Li’l Nickie.’ He was one of my favorite soldiers to hang with. He was funny and always had a smile on his face. God Bless and wait for me in heaven in the eternal formation of former comrades in arms.”
The family asks that memorials in their son’s name be made to The Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.