Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: THURSDAY, November 25, 1993 TAG: 9311250258 SECTION: VIRGINIA PAGE: A1 EDITION: HOLIDAY SOURCE: MADELYN ROSENBERG STAFF WRITER DATELINE: NARROWS LENGTH: Long
And if you come home a hero? People remember that, too.
This week, Dale Shrader returned to his native Narrows and the kind of celebration that gives small towns their charm.
He brought with him Shanna, his wife of eight months, burn scars and a Purple Heart.
The Narrows High School pep band played the national anthem in his honor, and he was chosen to light the sparkling snowflakes - the Christmas decorations that dot the town's light poles and trees.
"I don't see myself as a hero," said Shrader, an Army helicopter pilot who was shot down in September over Somalia.
But this town, population 2,055, does.
"We're a small community and we recognize each other when something's worthwhile," said Jay Richardson, the mayor's wife.
Shrader, a religious man of 29, went to Somalia in August to provide security for the United Nations relief effort.
It started out smoothly enough, but during his months there, emotions - and fighting - escalated.
Shrader and his crew had stopped to refuel the UH60 Black Hawk during a mission called "Eyes over Mogadishu" just as the Somali militia began a mortar attack against the U.S. soldiers. He was forced to take off.
Forty minutes later, when he swept back to check on the area, his helicopter was rocked by an explosion. The cockpit burned bright orange and the heat . . . "I've never felt such heat," Shrader said as he walked through the ribbon-lined streets of his hometown. "And the light was so intense. I maintained control and let our sister ship know we were going down."
Another pilot told him later that his craft had looked like a comet; no one thought there would be survivors.
The three crew members, riding behind the cockpit, died.
But Shrader, with severe burns and a broken wrist, kept the copter's nose up and crashed near Newport, an allied installation.
His co-pilot, Perry Alliman, blood dripping from his face, survived, too, and together, they made it to a dark alley. Shrader laid his friend down, out of sight.
"There was a step leading to a building where I could see to the left and the right," Shrader said. "I tried to radio out to contact someone, but each time it set off a loud beacon anyone in the area could hear. I turned it off."
Soon, they heard the click of automatic weapons, held by Somali militia men.
"My legs were out, and they saw the khaki uniform," Shrader said. A soldier started toward them, a grenade over his head.
"I opened fire," Shrader said. He cleared his throat. "I don't know if I caused him injury or not."
From above, machine guns fired. Shrader thought he would die.
A Bible study teacher, he knows many verses by heart. On this day, he could remember only one: " God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life."
He whispered it to Alliman: "Perry, John 3:16, John 3:16."
Quiet. And then, "I began to feel something would happen - that they would try one last time."
A Somali came down the alley shooting and Shrader fired back his few remaining rounds. He hit his mark.
Later, another Somali stood near the alley yelling: "American boys." Shrader, out of ammunition now, ran toward him.
"I wasn't sure if he was friend or foe," he said. "I told him I had a gun."
The man pointed down the street toward an armored personnel carrier - a friendly one. Shrader ran back for Alliman. When they reached the vehicle, the Somali was gone.
"Perry and I believe he was an angel, to show us the way," Shrader said, softly.
Since then, Shrader and Alliman have been in and out of hospitals for skin grafts and other treatments in Somalia, Germany, and the United States. They were fed - too much, says Shanna Shrader, playfully patting her husband's stomach. Shanna, a first lieutenant, also was sent to Somalia.
Shrader has talked about that long day, trying to work through it.
This week, he relived fonder memories, walking hand in hand with his wife on the streets of Narrows. He points out the football field where he used to play, and the house where his best friend, Bobby Williams, grew up.
He's played on the park slide near Wolf Creek where he used to be a life guard.
He's talked a lot on the phone.
Shrader is surprised that people still care so much about something that happened two months ago, that the townspeople want to celebrate.
"When I left, my public affairs officer told me: `Let them have their day. It's something good,' " Shrader said. "I hope to do them honor."
Wednesday night, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars presented a color guard for what Town Council dubbed "Dale Shrader Day."
Shrader's mom, who has spent so much time cooking she hasn't even seen the "Welcome Home" sign at the edge of town, whipped up a batch of her famous egg custard.
Richardson organized a crew to put up 200 yellow ribbons.
She had a scare Friday night when fans of the playoff-bound Narrows football team, thinking the ribbons were for them, talked about taking a few as souvenirs (the ribbons were yellow; Narrows' colors are gold and green).
But she had the school make an announcement over the loudspeaker: These ribbons were for Dale.
"We're so small here, everybody knows everybody," she said.
The football team planned to attend Wednesday's ceremony. So did Bill Patteson, the retired coach who saw Shrader through three sports.
"He's a hero, no question in my mind," Patteson said.
Shrader was scheduled to speak, briefly. He planned to thank the town and God. And he had his own request for those 200 yellow ribbons.
"I hope they leave them up until everyone comes home," he said.