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Honor for Newton hero

November 21, 2011

Newton's Andrew Rader would have turned 100 this year.

Rader — a doctor and U.S. Army major — died at 33 in the sinking of a Japanese prisoner ship in World War II. A Catawba County effort now seeks to honor his military and medical services.

Sylvia Ray, a former editor of The Observer News Enterprise, is leading the charge to have federal legislators and Veterans Administration officials name the new VA clinic on Tate Boulevard in Hickory in his honor.

"Since Catawba Valley pioneers trudged across wilderness terrain to Kings Mountain to fight British Redcoats for their independence, no more distinguished Catawban has sacrificed himself for this homeland than Newton native and Army doctor Maj. George Andrew Rader," Ray said.

"I have been spurred by two present-day military men in my family to initiate a request that the fine new clinic be named for a hometown boy who gave his life for his fellow Americans in an enemy prison camp, giving to the sick prisoners his own meager rations and earning the reverence of the few who knew him and escaped to survive," she continued.

Ray said she contacted U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan with requests for support to name the VA facility after Rader.

Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax, Conover Mayor Lee Moritz Jr. and Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright included letters of support in the request.

Mullinax noted Newton has a Rader Street, and Moritz said the clinic "should certainly" be named in memory of Rader. Wright called Rader "exemplary of the 'greatest generation.'"

Ray said she also received project support from Steve Maines, a retired district service officer for the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs and a member of the N.C. Veterans Commission.

Ray's grandson Luther, an Air Force airman, participated in a re-enactment of the Bataan Death March, in which Rader participated, last spring and met 12 men who survived the ordeal.

"As he shook hands with the seated old vets and mentioned Rader, one man struggled to his feet, clasped the youth in a bear hug and said, 'You're from Doc Rader's hometown? Boy, Doc Rader was a saint," Ray said.

Ray said she visited the South College Avenue home where Rader grew up when she was a child to support the family after his death. She said Rader's mother had placed a framed photo of the dead hero on the fireplace mantel in the family's sitting room.

"Each time during the past few days that I have mentioned my quest to local people who knew Rader or his family or were just familiar with his story, the response has been the same: that the new VA clinic definitely should be named for him," Ray said. "...I went back into the files of our paper to find how we covered the account of Andy Rader's military sojourn and was overwhelmed by his hometown's caring about the fine young man and his heroism."

Rader remembered as a leader
Posthumous accounts show Newton's Andrew Rader was always a leader.

From his achievement as Newton's first Eagle Scout to treating fellow wounded soldiers in World War II, he took initiative in all endeavors throughout his 33 years.

According to research by Sylvia Ray, a War Department notice sent to Rader's wife Rosabell told his family he died in the sinking of a Japanese ship in 1944 in the sea off Manila, Philippines. The ship filled with prisoners was sunk by American planes not aware of its passengers. The body of Rader, one of the last local men killed in World War II, was never recovered.

In November 1945, Rosabell received Rader's posthumously awarded Bronze Star medal at a Washington, D.C., ceremony. His wife also received a personal letter from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in which he wrote that the deaths of the Philippine heroes "gave us the time to arm ourselves for our return to the Philippines and the final defeat of Japan.

Their names will be enshrined in our country's glory forever." The letter ended: "In your husband's death I have lost a gallant comrade and mourn with you. Very faithfully, Douglas MacArthur."

Rader was born Aug. 25, 1911, to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Rader. His father provided for the family through farming in the Startown community.

Young Rader, one of five children, was Newton's first Eagle Scout.

He graduated from what was then Newton High School, and then graduated from Catawba College in Salisbury, where he was student body president his senior year and an outstanding football player.

He went on to attend medical school at Wake Forest and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and he interned at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

An obituary after his death noted, "A splendid young man, Maj. Rader was an outstanding student during his entire career." The obituary said Rader was "one of the best liked young men ever reared in Newton."

Rader served six years in the Army, assigned to duty in the Philippines in 1940.

A front-page story newspaper story in March 1942 reported that Japan had attacked the Philippines. The article began, "When Andrew Rader walked up South College Avenue on his way to school in the late 'twenties,' he probably dreamed of the day he would be a doctor, but it was not likely he thought he would be on the scene when the world's most dramatic struggle of 1942 was being enacted."

Rader was taken prisoner while a surgeon at Bataan Field Hospital No. 1. He was elevated to major rank while there. His Bronze Star citation said that he continued treating his fellow wounded soldiers, even as he was brutally beaten by the Japanese.

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