All people die. Few, however, get the opportunity to die a hero's death. This morning, my friend passed away during the commission of a brave act of unselfishness. Radisson Dana would have turned 28 later this week. Instead, he died alongside his father early this morning in a fire that engulfed the family's home.
Radisson Dana was a rare find. He was a good friend, a willing jokester, and a dedicated brother. Just more than five years ago, he lost one of his triplet brothers to a tragic fall at the same home that just burned down. Since then, my friend has calmly and dutifully moved on, never forgetting his fallen brother, but not letting the tragedy derail his life, either. When we were kids, Radisson and I played golf nearly every day of the summer. He was a good player and has remained one into his 20s. In August, I played one final round of golf with Radisson. We spent a couple of hours recalling the mishaps of our youth and talked about everything from work to school to family.
His father was a well-known journalist in our area. Dwight Dana maintained a newspaper column in which he wrote about a wide array of topics. He studied journalism at the University of South Carolina and was known for a jovial brand of prose that was littered with self-aware aggrandizement. He lived in a Victorian-style home nearly 110 years old. If you went there, you might smell the aged wood, read a decade-old newspaper, or have a cold drink. Gregarious and outgoing, Dwight Dana was a friend to most. In his column, he often referred to himself as the "columnist" - a third-person nod meant to acknowledge the absurdity of some of his subjects.
In one of his last columns, the columnist told the story of a spoon that had been used to break into a cigarette machine. He wrote:
A burglar somehow managed to swim through the moat that used to surround Joe’s after a heavy rain. He broke in the back door, but found no cash onboard. He then eyed the cigarette machine that hadn’t worked since the late 1960s.With the sort of irony that only a journalist like Dwight Dana could appreciate, his column offered a sort of foreshadowing for what happened earlier this morning. At around 2 AM, his son died a hero's death, overcome by smoke and heat in a desperate attempt to save his father.
He used the spoon to break into the cigarette machine. The spoon, which looked like a pretzel after the deed was done, died a hero’s death.
According to reports from officials on the scene, Radisson Dana returned to his father's home shortly after 2 AM, only to see the house replaced by a fiery inferno. The home's old wood had produced something of a kindling effect, and the fire burned quickly. My friend called 9-1-1 but refused to wait. With Dwight in the home and the clock ticking, my friend entered the home in a desperate attempt to rescue his father. Firefighters on the scene found the bodies in a hallway toward the back of the home. My friend had pulled his father from the bedroom where he slept and the two made their way toward the exit. Officials speculated that Radisson may have carried his father's body a few yards before the pair collapsed under the intense heat and debilitating smoke. A few feet from the door, my friend and the columnist died in a home that would later burn to the ground.
Before his brother's death, the bravest thing I saw Radisson Dana do was cut the corner on a long par-5. But he had been an Eagle Scout in his youth and had graduated from The Citadel military college a few years later. In the years following his brother's death, he had displayed a wealth of human courage. When put to the ultimate test, he laid down his own life in a noble attempt to save his dad. Today, my friend is gone, but the legacy of his death will carry on. He died a hero's death that almost certainly would have prompted adulation in his father's next column.