A ‘real-life Rambo’: Conway Navy SEAL vet remembered as tough, compassionate person

Dozens gathered Saturday in Conway to remember and honor the “real-life Rambo.”

Friends, family and a local organization of veterans attended the visitation service at Goldfinch Funeral Home for Sheldon T. Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL Vietnam veteran who passed away in his Conway home from natural causes on Sunday, Jan. 14.

Sheldon T. Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL veteran. Broyles, Michaela

“From the way his story reads, he is the legitimate real-life Rambo,” said Julius “Jewels” Strickland, commander of the Combat Vets Association 34-3, Horry County’s chapter. “He was the guy that was larger than life over there and came back with stories to tell, who decided to sit quietly in the little town of Conway and help people that struggled with addiction. You can’t ask for a better person than that.”

During Shepherd’s time serving in Vietnam, he survived being shot multiple times and received many medals and commendations for his service, including two bronze stars for valor and a purple heart. He was a former E-3 seaman who specialized in diving, radio and explosive mechanics.

“He still has a bullet lodged in his neck from his time in service,” Strickland said. “This chance to come out and send off a true hero of the Vietnam war in the manner that he deserves – publicly and to get the community involved – is probably one of the greatest things we could have done today.”

The Combat Vets Association 34-3, whose mission is to “support and defend those who have defended our country,” organized Shepherd’s visitation and invited the public to make sure the service was well attended.

“We heard he didn’t have anyone to send him off and now he does,” Strickland said. “It’s not often as an organization that we get a chance to honor a true hero of an era that the United States often tries to forget.”

After Shepherd recovered from his service in Vietnam and settled down in Conway, he served as the CEO of the Shepherd Center, an addiction treatment facility in the area, where he helped thousands of people through recovery.

Donna Thompson, a friend and former colleague of Shepherd’s, said her favorite memories she has with him is laughing and spending time with him at the Shepherd Center.

“He had a really fun sense of humor,” Thompson added. “I always called him a teddy bear in a grizzly suit because he had a tough exterior but an incredibly huge heart. He’d give anyone the shirt off his back if he loved you, and he loved a lot of people, and clearly a lot of people loved him.”

Shepherd’s brother, Mike, who came from Missouri for the visitation, said one of his sibling’s passions was helping people.

“Because he had to deal with a lot, he had the compassion for others,” he said. “We were very proud of him.”

A military ceremony for Shepherd will be held in February at the Florence National Cemetery.

Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles