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Spotsylvania retired Army captain lives through horrific injuries he suffered during a fire in Iraq-and is determined to keep going
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"There are some people who don't put their pants on first when they get up in the morning," he said. "They put their legs on first."
'YOU'LL GET IT ALL BACK'
Shell never considered athletes or actors his heroes. He looked up to his parents, Alvin Sr. and Mabel Shell. He's since added his wife, Danielle, to the list after she took care of him and the rest of the family when he couldn't.
The Shells' youngest son, Jachin, was 10 months old when his father came home from war. Danielle dealt with a baby in diapers and a husband who couldn't walk, talk or feed himself. She also had to care for the couple's older sons, Sean and Alvin III, who were in elementary school at the time.
The couple's determination got them through, Danielle Shell said.
"It doesn't hurt that both of us are pretty stubborn," she said.
Their parents came to the rescue. Her father, William Miller, moved from New York to North Carolina to stay with the older boys. Her mother, the late Paula Dickerson, helped her navigate the complicated system of military medical care.
Danielle kept the baby with her in Texas, where her husband was treated, and his parents moved there to help.
His father was the first to tell Shell, "You'll get it all back, you'll be great," and Shell believed him--because he always had.
The senior Shell worked much of his career as a sheriff's deputy, and Shell doesn't remember him ever missing a day's work "or quitting at anything."
His mother taught Head Start classes. When budget cuts threatened to close the program, she got a commercial driver's license and drove the bus herself.
Shell laughs at the memory of how embarrassed he was to have "the short bus" parked in his driveway.
Once again, he got serious as he talked about the values they instilled by example.
"I never knew any differently," he said. "I knew I was not supposed to quit, that I had to get up and go to work every day."
'SO, WHY NOT?'
There's no doubt in Danielle Shell's mind that her husband is a hero, "no matter how he hates to hear it," she said. She's not surprised that he downplays his actions, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, an award for heroism.
"But not everyone would have done what Alvin did," she said.
Nor would everyone keep going as he has, but that's always been his personality, his wife said.
"He impresses me every day," she said, "but don't tell him I said that."
Shell knows his injuries will catch up with him. He guesses the trauma aged his body--and memory--by at least 20 years.
He hopes he can stay active until he gets all three sons through college. He and his wife are thrilled that Sean recently was accepted to Cornell University in New York.
"I know the time will come when I can't work," he said, "but for right now, I can.
"So, why not?"
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
INSPIRATION is an