The family dentist and Panthers fan submitted Shaker's name for 'Heroes Among Us' program.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Last Saturday, 16,000 hockey fans in South Florida learned that David Shaker is an American hero.
A handful of those fans already knew it.
Shaker, a lifelong North Adams resident now retired and living in Boca Raton, Fla., was recognized on the jumbotron at Saturday's Boston Bruins-Florida Panthers game as part of the Panthers' "Heroes Among Us" program.
Surrounded by family members from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania who traveled for the event, Shaker watched as his videotaped reminiscences of World War II were shared with the crowd at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
"I have five brothers and one sister — most live in Massachusetts, two are in Pennsylvania — they all flew down for the game," said Diane Shaker Heard, David's daughter, who lives her father in Boca Raton.
"As they say in the Master Card commercial, it was priceless. His one grandson was able to come down with his wife as well."
David Shaker was 19 when he joined the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor. He ended up serving on the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, and earning 10 battle stars and a Presidential Citation.
In the 1 minute, 40 second video pre-recorded at the arena by the team, Shaker talked about how he slept under the wing of a plane for three years and saw his bridge partner killed by a Japanese suicide bomber.
"His machine gun bullets were ripping the flight deck 4 feet behind my back," Shaker said. "I was lucky."
He was also smart — smart enough to know when to follow orders and when to take the initiative. In one engagement with the enemy, the former course saved lives.
"The captain of the ship says, 'I don't want anybody firing at 2-9-0.' He says, 'I got two scout planes, and they're coming in at 2-9-0,' " Shaker recalls in the video.
"Then a half hour later, I see a plane coming in at 2-9-0. I look at it and there's a big, red meatball, so I knew he was Japanese. So I opened up and blew him out of the sky.
"I was the only gun firing of all the guns on the ship. Everybody was obeying orders but me."
What Diane Heard calls, "the most amazing 1:30 video clip I've ever seen," was the product of an hourlong interview. Fortunately, the team was able to provide the family with the outtakes, so they can preserve Shaker's stories for future generations.
The honor for the 93-year-old veteran came about after the family's dentist, a regular attendee at Panthers' games, submitted Shaker's name for consideration.
Another bit of serendipity came about when the evening's opposition, the Boston Bruins, took advantage of the chance to honor a hero from the same hometown as B's Head Trainer Don DelNegro.
"It's not normally done that the opposing team comes out, but they came out and gave my dad a signed stick, and a couple of them shook his hand while he was out there on the ice," Heard said.
It was lucky that the family could connect with DelNegro through his sister, who went to school with one of Heard's brothers and heard about the honor for Shaker through Facebook. It was no accident that Shaker was honored on a night when the Bruins were in town.
"The team reached out to me [after Shaker was nominated] and offered a few dates that were available," Heard said. "It happened that the Jan. 7 game against the Bruins was available. We're all Boston fans, so I picked the date. It just was amazing.
"We root for the Panthers. Only when they're playing Boston would I root for the other team. I had a Panthers jersey signed by the Panthers. We've taken my [12-year-old] son to a couple of games. We root for both."
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