Saturday, November 27, 2004

U.S. Army Cpl. Dale Fracker Jr. and his fiancee, Tracy Mitchell, met as seniors at Napa Valley High School and became best friends.

2 Schofield soldiers slain

The men are killed in Afghanistan
when a bomb explodes and destroys
their vehicle

Two Schofield Barracks-based soldiers, including one who had completed a tour of duty in Iraq and re-enlisted to go back and fight alongside his friends, were killed Wednesday in Afghanistan.

"Dale was so dedicated to his brothers in arms, he trained with them and he bonded," said Dale Fracker Sr., father of Cpl. Dale Fracker Jr., who was killed. "So he told his superiors he wanted to go. He told them they need to give him a waiver or else he's going to go up as high as he needs to."

The elder Fracker added: "It's not just my son. You see the men wounded who return because they want to be with their brothers, they want to stand at their side. And this is what it's all about."

The Army announced yesterday that Cpl. Jacob R. Fleischer, 25, of St. Louis, Mo., and Fracker, 23, of Apple Valley, Calif., were killed in Deh Rawood, Afghanistan, when a homemade bomb exploded, destroying their vehicle. The two were infantryman serving with C Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division (Light).

They were the 42nd and 43rd soldiers with Hawaii ties killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Fleischer enlisted in March 2003 and was assigned in October 2003 to Schofield Barracks.

Fracker, who joined in April 2001, was nearing the end of his service while in Iraq when he re-enlisted in November 2003, said his father, a 20-year Navy veteran.

"He wanted to go to Hawaii," the elder Fracker said, and got his wish in January when he was assigned to Schofield Barracks.

Since he had not been back from combat more than six months, he was not supposed to go with his unit, his father said.

Fracker's last gift was a bouquet of purple-pink roses he sent to his hometown fiancee, Tracy Mitchell, a 24-year-old geology major at Sonoma State University.

She received them Tuesday, the day before he died.

The card was addressed to Tracy Mitchell Fracker.

"He said, 'I love you and I'm always thinking about you. Sleep with the angels, baby. Love, Dale Fracker Jr.,'" Mitchell said.

The couple had been best friends since high school, and while on leave from Afghanistan in September, Fracker asked Mitchell's mother's permission to marry her daughter. She gave her blessing and Fracker proposed.

Mitchell planned to graduate in May and move to Hawaii to be with Fracker, and marry a year later.

The two met as high school seniors in a child care development class at Napa Valley High School, and became best friends.

"I was always there for him, and he was always there for me," she said. But they remained "just friends."

But romance bloomed after Fracker was deployed to Afghanistan.

"Since he was gone in May, I was writing him letters all the time, and I knew that we were more than just friends and we both knew it, too, but we didn't have the nerve to say anything, even though we both felt the same way about each other years before.

"We both loved each other strongly, and that's what kept us together."

Mitchell said what attracted him to her was his "big heart. He showed me unconditional love."

The Frackers have extended to Mitchell the privileges of having their family name.

"It's not a legal name, but as far as we're concerned, she belongs to us, too, because she has paid, too," said the elder Fracker.

The two families have been grieving together and draw comfort from their strong faith.

The elder Fracker described his son as a devout Christian, a charitable person, always respectful of his elders.

"He had such a kind heart," his father said.

When he worked as a janitor at a hospital, he would go out of his way to pick up and take home a woman with several children whose car would frequently break down.

"Every time he wrote us in Iraq or Afghanistan, he would write or e-mail us, 'Mama, Papa, don't worry. I'm OK.' He said he loves us, he loves his brother."

In high school, Fracker, who stood between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 7 inches tall, would defend his friends against larger guys who picked on them, his father said.

"Dale may not have been real tall, but he was a tough kid," Fracker said. "He stood his ground. He wasn't afraid to take a stand."

Fracker and his younger brother, Herman, a 22-year-old Marine, both followed in their father's footsteps.

At one point both brothers, the only children of the Frackers, were deployed in Iraq. The Frackers thought it was their son every time a soldier from the 4th Infantry Division or a Marine from Camp Pendleton was reported killed.

The elder Fracker, a Vietnam and Gulf War-era veteran, disapproves of grieving parents who lose sons and daughters and criticize the government.

"We are very proud of our troops, proud of our sons," he said, his voice breaking. "The brave men and women of the military, they got my respect."

He added: "It's not just those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It's their families who have also sacrificed."

Fracker called home when his close friend was killed Oct. 14.

"I talked to him and we prayed, and that helped him out," his father said, adding that he called and e-mailed during the next few weeks. "He would say don't worry, he was safe and he loves God."

Fracker Jr. is being awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star and posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant, his father said.

A private prayer service for the soldiers is set for Wednesday at Schofield Barracks.



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