Memorializing in a personal way their comrades who were killed in action or who have not returned home from combat has been a common practice in the U.S. Military community since the first shot was fired. While the method used to honor the fallen or missing has varied greatly over the years, one of the more popular ways since the 1970s has been a commemorative bracelet. The bracelets are usually engraved or marked with the rank, name and loss date of an American servicemember captured, missing or killed in action.
According to the National Museum of American History, an estimated five million POW bracelets were distributed between 1970 and 1976, thanks to the California student group named Voiced In Vital America, who created bracelets so American Prisoners Of War in Vietnam would not be forgotten.
A new way to help honor these American heroes that the national non-profit Boot Campaign developed is through its nationwide PUSH campaign, which challenges civilians to awaken their inner patriot by doing something physical to support the military – such as 90 seconds of non-stop push-ups or participating in a 5K run. PUSH events kickoff nationwide on May 20 and run through Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Before each participant begins, they are asked to answer one important question: Who do you PUSH for?
Two Boot Campaign Veteran Ambassadors taking part in the PUSH campaign have no difficulty identifying who they are pushing for. Cpl. (Ret.) Dewaine Hill, U.S. Army, and Sgt. (Ret.) Dan Schrader, U.S. Army, each wear commemorative memorial bracelets in honor of a comrade they greatly miss every day, who have forever impacted their lives and touched their hearts in inexplicable ways.
Hill, a native Texan, graduated from Fredericksburg High School and enlisted in the Army in November of 2000, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Darrell Vanderford, who was a father-figure in his life and had served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.
After training as an infantryman, he was stationed at Fort Hood in Killen, Texas, where he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division Bravo Company. He eventually was deployed to Iraq in 2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and returned to the U.S. with his unit in February 2005. He was released from active duty in June 2005, when he continued his service in the Army Reserves until December 2008, leaving the military with the rank as corporal.
It is his first military roommate at Fort Hood – U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph A. Rahaim – who Hill honors on his wrist every day with a memorial bracelet.
“Joseph was from Mississippi, but he and I had a lot in common and became very close friends,” remembers Hill, a rifle expert who earned numerous awards during his career include the Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal and Combat Infantry Badge.. “He was killed on Feb. 16, 2005, just three days before I returned home from Iraq. He was laid to rest in Georgia and an Army barracks in Ft. Benning has been named after him.”
Hill not only remembers Rahaim on his bracelet but also on his 2014 Harley Davidson motorcycle, the same vehicle he also uses to honor the bravery of 10 additional comrades who gave the ultimate sacrifice. The names on his bike include: SGT Joseph Rahaim- 2005, SFC Special Forces Nathan Winder -2007, Staff SGT. Christoffer Tjaden- 2009, SGT. Gerardo Moreno- 2004, SGT Pablo Calderon-2004, SGT Alec Norcom- 2015, SGT Jose Guereca Jr.- 2004, SPC Andrew Weiss-2007, SPC Mark Zapata- 2004, Staff SGT Edward Carman-2004, and 2nd LT James Goins-2004.
“I am often asked about the names on my bike and it is an honor to ride with them and share their stories,” explains Hill, who resides in Leander, Texas, with my wife Kristi, son Brayden, and a soon-to-be-adopted a little girl. “It’s also allowed other people to share the stories of their own loved ones who have served our country with me, which is another great way to keep the memory of all service members alive.”
Like Hill, Schrader also served in the U.S. Army Reserves, but that was after starting his military career in the U.S. Navy from 1989-1996. A native of Flagstaff, Ariz., Schrader served a total of 16 years in the military before retiring in 2011 as a sergeant, finishing with two stints in the Army Reserves between 1996-2000 and 2006-2011, participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-2008.
Schrader wears a memorial bracelet in honor of Wade Twyman, who he met in the early part of 2001 outside of the military. Schrader was an Arizona Highway Patrolman stationed in La Paz County’s Parker, Ariz., and Wade was a new deputy in the same county. He says they struck up a quick friendship and were eventually roommates.
“Wade was a young, energetic deputy and worked very hard to establish a reputation as a good deputy, and succeeded in doing so,” recalls Schrader. “We both worked the night shift, and even though we worked for different agencies, we saw a lot of each other either through backing each other up, him assisting me on accident scenes, or even just meeting for dinner.
Schrader remembers vividly that they had both been working the late shift on the night of Sept. 10, 2001, and were awakened early by a ringing phone the next morning of Sept. 11, a day that would put in motion several life changing events for both.
“It wasn’t long after 9/11 that Wade came to me and asked me about my prior service in both the Navy and Army,” says Schrader. “I spoke to him with the pride of any veteran, and when he asked my advice regarding enlisting in the Army, I told him to go for it if that was what he truly wanted to do.”
Schrader noticed from the beginning of their friendship that Twyman was driven to serve others, exhibiting the same family trait as his fire chief father and sheriff’s deputy brother. He enlisted as a cavalry scout and was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division upon completion of his basic and advanced individual training.
On the morning of March 7, 2005, Schrader was at my home in Camp Verde, Arizona, raking leaves outside, and he received a call to his cell phone from a mutual friend of he and Twyman. The call was to inform him that Twyman had been killed in Iraq when the vehicle he was in hit an IED (improvised explosive device).
“I remember sitting down on an old wooden bench that was in front of my barn and feeling like I was going to vomit,” Schrader explains. “I lost my breath and, for a minute, I thought my friend was playing a cruel joke on me. I couldn’t believe it. Wade was larger than life. He was vibrant, full of life and humor and sarcasm, and it didn’t make any sense to me that he was gone, just like that.
“I later found out that Wade was actually driving the vehicle,” he adds. “Some of his squad mates tried everything they could to save him, but his wounds were too serious.”
In addition to a bracelet, Schrader also has honored Twyman with a mural in his home on the wall of his “man cave” that he painted himself. As part of the mural there is a caption that reads “All Gave Some, Some Gave All, SPC. Wade M Twyman, KIA 03-04-2005.”
“To this day, 12 years later, it still gives me that feeling of nausea, grief, frustration and even anger when I see his face, and see him on the mural that I painted in his honor,” admits Schrader. “Wade was a good man, from a good family, and he served his country selflessly, always wanting to be the best at what he did.”
Both Schrader and Hill take the memory of their fallen comrades seriously every day, and plan to for the rest of their lives. In addition, there are a few times each year when that memory shines even brighter than others and, not surprisingly, one of them is celebrated this year on May 29.
“Memorial Day is a day we honor the true heroes that made the ultimate sacrifice for our great country,” acknowledges Hill. “It’s a day to remind us that we should remember and honor them and their families every day and not take our freedoms for granted.”
According to Schrader, “Memorial Day for me is a day of reflection and gratitude, not just for Wade and not just for my fellow Iraq veterans who died, but for everyone who has put their life on the line and given it so that this country can remain free.
“For many years, Memorial Day was a day for me to isolate myself and drink away anger and frustration and sadness,” he confides. “Those days have since passed, thankfully. These days when Memorial Day comes around, I try to spend the day doing something in honor of the fallen, and I always end my day by raising a toast to my friend Wade, and giving a prayer of thanks for the friendship we shared.
“I look back on the times in a little county in western Arizona when Wade made a tense situation humorous, or when he made a humorous situation hysterical,” Schrader concludes. “The guy could make anyone laugh, and to this day I can imagine him telling me in his California slang, “Hey dude, it’s all good.”
Details about participating in the six-month PUSH campaign to honor America’s heroes is available at BootCampaign.org.
By Barry Smith