Veterans deserve reverence and honor

Published 5:20 pm Thursday, November 6, 2008

To many people Veterans Day is just another day off work.

While we enjoy our day off, some man or woman is in uniform in a hot desert, enduring fitness training, implementing survival skills or patrolling a dangerous area in which terrorists work.

Alabama has one of the highest numbers of soldiers serving in all branches of the United States Military and the National Guard. We can also boast of one of the highest percentages of veterans and of excellent veterans’ organizations.

The names Red Erwin, William Lawley and Lee McLaughlin may not ring a bell with you, but they are three people of whom you should know. Shelby County’s Highway 119 is known as the “Erwin, Lawley, McLaughlin Medal of Honor Highway.” All three of these men received the highest military award given in our country for a supreme act of bravery beyond the call of duty.

Master Sergeant Henry “Red” Erwin was in a lead bombing raid in Koriyama, Japan in 1945 when he took control of a B-52 Bomber and ensured the safety of his crew by dropping a burning grenade on the enemy. He was the father of Senator Hank Erwin.

Air Force Colonel William R. Lawley Jr., sustained serious injury during one of World War II’s largest bombing raids. He was able to stabilize a damaged bomber that was spinning out of control and return the severely injured members of his crew back to base.

Staff Sergeant Alford Lee McLaughlin was a Marine Private First Class serving in Korea when he was wounded. He planned a defense to save his outpost in advance of the main line of resistance in Sept. 1952. He was the recipient of the Purple Heart with one Gold Star, the Order of Military Merit and the Wharang with Gold Star presented by the South Korean government, its highest honor.

It is a proud day in Alabama when one of our football teams wins a national championship or one of our athletes receives a gold medal at the Olympics. Veterans Day should be treated the same for the 94 Alabamians who have given their lives in defense of our country during this present war. We should also take great pride and celebrate the lives of those who have fought, died and survived the other wars and conflicts on our behalf. In some cases, words on a tombstone are the only gold medal they will ever know.

We should ensure that their lives be honored because of their courage, their valor and their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that we may peacefully vote, live, work and worship. God bless our Veterans, dead or live. They are the greatest among us!