February 17, 2013

Humble hero from Maine honored for a final act of valor

Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw, 31, of Exeter died saving the lives of 12 Afghan soldiers

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It wasn't long after the firefight began that 1st Lt. Stephen Tangen ordered his platoon of soldiers on foot to get back to the armored trucks that had followed them up the Ghaki road and take cover.

click image to enlarge

1st Lt. Doug Jones points across the Ghaki Valley road in Kunar province to where American and Afghan troops battled Taliban forces on June 27, 2010, when Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw of Exeter was killed on the road.

Dianna Cahn/Stars and Stripes

click image to enlarge

Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw of Exeter was leading a squad of soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, moving east on the Ghaki Valley road on a mission to seize the village of Daridam, when he was shot by the Taliban while trying to help his Afghan allies take cover. This graphic was provided by and used with the permission of Stars and Stripes, which published a story about the mission, called Operation Strong Eagle.

2010, 2013 Stars and Stripes

Additional Photos Below

Courtesy Audrey Shaw

Audrey Shaw shows the Distinguished Service Cross that was awarded posthumously to her husband, Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw of Exeter.


THE DISTINGUISHED Service Cross is the Army’s second-highest award for valor, after the Medal of Honor and before the Silver Star.

IT IS EQUIVALENT to the Navy Cross, for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the Air Force Cross.

SINCE Sept. 11, 2001, the Army had awarded 26 Distinguished Service Crosses as of November.

IN THE SAME time, there were six Medals of Honor awarded and nearly 600 recipients of the Silver Star, according to the Department of Defense.

Established in 1918, the bronze cross is 2 inches high and about 2 inches wide with an eagle in the center and a scroll below it that says, “FOR VALOR,” according to a description by The Institute of Heraldry in the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army.

ON THE BACK of the cross is a wreath with a space in the middle for the name of the recipient. It hangs on a blue ribbon with red and white stripes on the edges.

RECIPIENTS WHO retire with more than 20 years of service get a 10 percent increase in retirement pay.

The machine-gun fire was coming from insurgents across the valley floor from the dirt road that led to Daridam, a village on the northeastern border of Afghanistan that a battalion of American soldiers and their Afghan allies were on a mission to seize from the Taliban.

Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw told his eight-man squad, positioned just behind 60 Afghan soldiers who were leading the advance, to get down and return fire; he'd be back.

It was 100 degrees in the Ghaki Valley on the morning of June 27, 2010 -- four days after Shaw's 31st birthday, about a week after he'd arrived in Afghanistan and 2½ years before his wife would be presented with the Distinguished Service Cross for what he did to save the lives of 12 Afghan soldiers over the next few minutes.

"I always told him, 'Don't be a hero. Just come home,' " Audrey Shaw said last month.

That day, her husband didn't listen.


Most of the rest of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division -- nicknamed "No Slack" -- had been patrolling Kunar province for more than a month when Shaw arrived.

He had stayed behind at the base in Fort Campbell, Ky., for the birth of his third daughter.

Julia, now 2, played with Play-Doh as her mother talked on the phone last month about the man whose photos hang throughout their home in Tennessee.

She was a sophomore at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham when they started talking at a party at the Sigma Nu house on School Street, where he lived.

"I thought he was cute," Audrey Shaw said of her future husband, a senior history major who could do a dead-on impersonation of comedian Chris Farley and looked the part.

They dated for the rest of the school year and for a while after he graduated and moved back to Exeter, a town of about 1,000 people, 20 miles outside of Bangor. He had been raised there by his father, a Vietnam veteran who insisted he attend college instead of enlisting in the military after high school.

His mother, whom he reconnected with later, lived in Massachusetts with his three half-siblings.

"He didn't have the best of everything" growing up, said Rick Whitney, Shaw's U.S. history teacher at Dexter Regional High School.

Still, Whitney said, he was an upbeat kid, loud and fun-loving in a way that could make teaching class trying at times. "You had to love him though," he said.

History was Shaw's favorite subject.

"He knew facts, information, trivia that the other kids didn't have a clue about," said Whitney, whom Shaw would visit whenever he came home from college. "He said, 'I'm going to school to be a history teacher, like you.' "

Shaw also knew wrestling. A heavyweight in high school and college, he wasn't the most talented athlete, but he studied the sport, said his USM teammate Jesse Peterson.

"He worked really, really hard," Peterson said. "He was going to be a great coach."

His college girlfriend imagined they might eventually settle down somewhere like Windham, and he could work in a local school.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

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Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw poses for a family photo with his wife, Audrey, and their daughters, Victoria, Madison and Julia, just before he left for Afghanistan in June 2010.

Courtesy of Audrey Shaw

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Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw, here in his dress uniform, had planned to be a history teacher after graduating from the University of Southern Maine, but he couldn’t find work and joined the Army instead.

Courtesy Audrey Shaw

The last photo taken of Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw shows him in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, just before he left on a mission to seize the village of Daridam from the Taliban on June 27, 2010. He was killed during the mission while trying to protect Afghan allies from fire coming from insurgents across the Ghaki Valley.

Courtesy Audrey Shaw

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Service members salute as the remains of Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw arrive in July 2010 at Augusta State Airport, where they were escorted by the Maine Army National Guard’s Honor Guard.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal


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