By Staff Sgt. Annette B. Andrews/18th Fires Bde. PAOApril 23, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - It was 2 a.m., April 3, on a lonely highway in rural Virginia when two young men noticed a flicker in the dark. Specialist James D. Story and his cousin, Dennis W. Sharitz, slowed their car to take a better look at what they initially thought was a bonfire.
"Yeah, who'd be burning stuff at 2 a.m.'" said Story, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, as they approached the house. "That's about the time we noticed the flames were really, really close to the back of the house.
"As we passed by and got further away we noticed it was on the roof of the house and shooting through the tree limbs. So we turned around on the highway."
When Story got out of the car, his instincts kicked in, instincts honed by Army training which produced a clear mind and he did what he knew he had to do. Safety was the number one priority when Story and Sharitz leaped from their vehicle.
"My goal was to make sure everyone got out of the house," Story said. "My cousin, Dennis, went straight to the back of the house. I ran to the front door - banged on it - no one answered."
But luckily the door was unlocked so the young Soldier rushed into the unknown. He didn't waiver, and immediately spotted a young man, about 22-years-old, asleep on the living room sofa.
"I woke him up and told him his house was on fire," said Story.
Disoriented, the young man got up, but with Story's help they ran to the back rooms.
"He went in one and I went in the other," Story said.
They were able to awaken the two young teenagers easily, and led them out of the house.
There had been a camper out back; it was completely engulfed in flames by the time Sharitz got there, and the flames had jumped to the house.
"As we exited, my cousin who was then in the front yard, told me the whole back of the house was gone," he said.
Story and Sharitz were informed there was a propane tank in the camper, "... once I found out about the propane I wanted to get them as far away from the house as possible," stated Story.
He recalled an experience he had while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom from December 2007 to February 2009. "I'd felt the percussion of Improvise explosive devices going off, so I wanted to get the Family away from the house in case that propane tank went up."
With everyone out of harm's way, the cousins concentrated on the next step.
"I used my cell phone to call for help. We got lucky, right after we made the 911 call the phone battery died."
Backed away from the house to a safer distance to await the fire department's arrival, everyone had time to think.
"I kept thinking this was all a coincidence. The cell phone, and that we passed by the house at that exact moment," Story said.
Three people in all, three lives spared a tragic ending.
"I've never been down that highway before, what are the odds'" he questioned. "Probably won't go that way again. I was in the right place at the right time. I guess God intended me and my cousin to be there at that time."
The parents had been down the road visiting with friends. Fortunately another friend of theirs, who was passing by, saw the fire as well and pulled into the driveway after everyone was out of the house. Since the children did not have a phone, their friend took the children to the parents. They all returned about 10 minutes later.
With a hug and a handshake the father said, "I can't thank you enough for saving my Family."
The mother also thanked them with a tearful hug.
As they stood around watching the fire consume the home they rented, one of the rescued boys voiced his concern about his DVD collection.
"DVDs can be replaced. Family members can't," said the friend. In the ensuing silence dozens of thoughts ran through his head, Story said.
"I joined the Army to do something good. I wanted to do something great in my life and have everybody know it. God made it true for me in a different way," Story quietly said.
"You know, it doesn't take long for a house to fill up with smoke. I'd say it was full of smoke five minutes after we got everybody out the door. "
The emergency team arrived within a few minutes and had enough time to save most of the house from going up in flames.
"Later, the mother was asking about her three cats. I told her I saw two of them run out after us," Story said. "We left after the fire department, ambulances and police cars arrived. It must've been around 5 a.m. Just before we got in our car the mother asked for our names and thanked us again for saving their Family."
Those five people along U.S. Route 460 lost everything in the fire, everything but Family. By way of thanks, they plan to invite the cousins back for dinner after they get back on their feet.
"I'd like that. Me and my cousin would both like to have dinner with them," said Story with a smile.
Captain Grady Lowe, commander of HHB, 18th Fires Bde., was the first Soldier in the brigade to hear of Story's heroism. Lowe knew Story was on pass to visit Family over a long weekend.
"He's outstanding. I know a lot about this Soldier, he's 13F, fires support specialist. And he's an example of the Army values," said Lowe. "I'm sure he was the one in charge of that situation. He's a man of exceptional courage and noble qualities. He is an extraordinary man."
"And to think, it all started because he was running an errand for his mother," he said.
Lowe spoke of the Army values and noted that we are all ordinary men and women often faced with extraordinary circumstances; it's how we deal with the situation that makes us heroes.