Memorial Day memories: The day Dale Fisher came home

PLEASANT GAP, Pa. _ Late in the afternoon, Jake Fisher, a fresh pack of cigarettes in hand, crossed East College Avenue.

He stuck his head into Don’s Pizza, a popular spot in Pleasant Gap, Pa. Another time, he might have ordered a pie. On this day, however, he stayed only long enough to deliver the news.

"Dale’s dead," he said. Jake's son, Army Spc. Dale Charles Fisher, had died in South Vietnam at 21. Hours earlier, two uniformed officers had walked up to the Fisher home in Pleasant Gap and crossed the small lawn bearing the news that Dale had been shot on Feb. 22, 1969.

No longer would the bespectacled redhead scale spooky, enshrouded mountains with the 101st Airborne Division. Nor would he fulfill his wish to study accounting in college. Three weeks too early, he was coming home.

On a bitter March day, with the wind whipping the mourners, Fisher’s coffin descended into a snowy grave at Centre County Memorial Park. Flags around the county flew at half-mast.

Forty years later, Pennsylvania would designate Memorial Day as "Fallen Heroes of the Vietnam War Day." Those honored would include 25 men from Centre County, among the 3,144 Pennsylvanians killed in the war.

Some of the local casualties fought for draining months. Some died within weeks. A few received posthumous decorations. Most just lost their lives. Dale Fisher fell to his own side.

Friendly fire caught him on a search and destroy mission. All the firefights he had survived, all those battles in the hills and coastal plains near Hue, and the end came from wayward shots from all-American boys like himself.

In 1969, however, that mattered less than a harder truth.

Dale Fisher was dead.

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