Monday, November 8, 2010

The 8th of November - Lawrence Joel

Does "The 8th of November" sound familiar? It should, its the name of a popular song by Big and Rich famous for "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy". Why is this date important to the History of our Salem?
1986 - After much heated debate with racial overtones, the alderman vote to name the new coliseum after Winston-Salem native, Lawrence Joel, a black who won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam." Frank Tursi - Winston-Salem A History
I never cease to be amazed at what our fair citizens can turn into a racial conflict. This undercurrent of this debate remains with us. The Alderman got it right and we need to correct our attitude on this subject.

Born here Lawrence Joel attended public schools, Atkins High School and joined the Merchant Marines for one year. In 1946, at age 18, he joined the United States Army enlisting in New York City. As a Sergeant First Class he served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. While serving in Vietnam, as a medic, Specialist Five, assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment,  173rd Airborne Brigade, Joel received the Silver Star and the Medal of Honor for his heroism in a battle with the Viet Cong that occurred on November 8, 1965.

Lawrence Joel was the first living black American to receive the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Lawrence Joel (February 22, 1928–February 4, 1984) is buried in Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia. His grave can be found in section 46, lot 15-1.
Silver Star
Medal of Honor

Audio of Medal of Honor presentation ceremony at the White House, March 9, 1967 by President Johnson with Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor.

How much does it take to get your attention fellow citizens of Salem? Isn't it unfortunate that, although our coliseum is rightfully named for our fellow citizen Silver Star and Medal of Honor recipient, Lawrence Joel, we still have manged to ignore Lawrence's rightful respect in our community. First we dropped his name when referring to the complex, named in his and his fellow soldiers honor, and began referring to the site as the LJVM Coliseum Complex and now as the Winston-Salem Entertainment-Sports Complex. What is the problem with the name Lawrence Joel? Would we as a community have handled this all differently if he were white or if this had occurred in a different war? Would we now? The brave men represented by the multitude of granite markers at their Memorial Coliseum would stand with pride, salute Lawrence Joel and shout his name to honor him showing their pride that this facility bears his name. Our military, the government, President, Congress, country music artist's and America at large have honored Lawrence Joel. Why don't we chose to honor him in our heart and minds as well as with brick and mortar?

Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC
This tale of bravery is about Operation Hump during the Vietnam War. The result of the battle was heavy losses on both sides—48 Paratroopers dead, many more wounded, and 403 dead PLAF troops. Operation Hump is memorialized in a song by Big and Rich named 8th of November (Introduction, by Kris Kristofferson):
On November 8th 1965, the 173rd Airborne Brigade on "Operation Hump", war zone "D" in Vietnam, were ambushed by over 1200 VC. 48 American soldiers lost their lives that day. Severely wounded and risking his own life, Lawrence Joel, a medic, was the first living black man since the Spanish-American War to receive the United States Medal of Honor for saving so many lives in the midst of battle that day. Our friend, Niles Harris, retired 25 years United States Army, the guy who gave Big Kenny his top hat, was one of the wounded who lived. This song is his story. Caught in the action of kill or be killed, greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brother.
Watch this video and pay very close attention to what it is all about and see if you don't agree that we need to correct or attitude in Winston-Salem concerning Lawrence Joel!

If you would like to get a real feel for what this is all about watch the movie We Were Soldiers with Mel Gibson.

On November 8, 1965 Specialist Five Lawrence Joel and his battalion of paratroopers were sent on a patrol for Viet Cong soldiers near Bien Hoa, war-zone "D" in the heart of Vietnam, conducting Operation Hump. Joel and his battalion shortly found themselves in a Viet Cong ambush, outnumbered six to one. Under heavy gunfire, Joel did his duty as a medic, administering first aid to wounded soldiers. Joel defied orders to stay to the ground and risked his life to help the many wounded soldiers; nearly every soldier in the lead squad was either wounded or killed in the battle. Even after being shot twice (once in the right thigh and once in the right calf), Joel continued to do his job; he bandaged his wounds and continued to help the wounded in not only his unit, but in the nearby company as well. When his medical supplies were depleted, he hobbled around the battlefield for more, using a makeshift crutch. Joel attended to thirteen troops and saved the life of one soldier who suffered from a severe chest wound by improvising and placing a plastic bag over the soldier's chest in order to seal the wound until the supplies were refreshed. After the firefight which lasted over twenty four hours, Joel was hospitalized and shipped to locations including Saigon, Vietnam and Tokyo, Japan to recover. Shortly after, he received the Silver Star for his activities on November 8, 1965.

On March 9, 1967 on the White House lawn, President Lyndon Johnson presented Joel with the Medal of Honor for his service in the Vietnam War. His citation reads as follows:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp6c. Joel demonstrated indomitable courage, determination, and professional skill when a numerically superior and well-concealed Viet Cong element launched a vicious attack which wounded or killed nearly every man in the lead squad of the company. After treating the men wounded by the initial burst of gunfire, he bravely moved forward to assist others who were wounded while proceeding to their objective. While moving from man to man, he was struck in the right leg by machine gun fire. Although painfully wounded his desire to aid his fellow soldiers transcended all personal feeling. He bandaged his own wound and self-administered morphine to deaden the pain enabling him to continue his dangerous undertaking. Through this period of time, he constantly shouted words of encouragement to all around him. Then, completely ignoring the warnings of others, and his pain, he continued his search for wounded, exposing himself to hostile fire; and, as bullets dug up the dirt around him, he held plasma bottles high while kneeling completely engrossed in his life saving mission. Then, after being struck a second time and with a bullet lodged in his thigh, he dragged himself over the battlefield and succeeded in treating 13 more men before his medical supplies ran out. Displaying resourcefulness, he saved the life of one man by placing a plastic bag over a severe chest wound to congeal the blood. As 1 of the platoons pursued the Viet Cong, an insurgent force in concealed positions opened fire on the platoon and wounded many more soldiers. With a new stock of medical supplies, Sp6c. Joel again shouted words of encouragement as he crawled through an intense hail of gunfire to the wounded men. After the 24 hour battle subsided and the Viet Cong dead numbered 410, snipers continued to harass the company. Throughout the long battle, Sp6c. Joel never lost sight of his mission as a medical aidman and continued to comfort and treat the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered. His meticulous attention to duty saved a large number of lives and his unselfish, daring example under most adverse conditions was an inspiration to all. Sp6c. Joel's profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
Memorial Amphitheater
Lawrence Joel retired from military service in 1973. On February 4, 1984, Joel died of complications from diabetes. He is buried in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater

Besides being the recipient of the Medal of Honor, several different buildings and memorials have been named in his honor.
  1. The first military memorial named in his honor was Joel Drive, which encircles Blanchfield Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, KY, dedicated in 1985.
  2. In memory of Lawrence Joel and all Forsyth County veterans, the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen (now City Council) in February 1986 decided to name the city's new coliseum the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Construction for the coliseum began one year later and opened in 1989.
  3. The Joel Auditorium at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. is named after Lawrence Joel.
  4. The U.S. Army clinics at FT McPherson, GA and FT Bragg, NC, are named after Joel.
On April 8, 1967, the city of Winston-Salem held a parade to honor Lawrence Joel. He grew up on the east side of the city, a predominantly African-American section of the city at the time. The New York Times called it the biggest tribute the city had ever staged. Watch WFMY News 2 vintage video of the parade.

Heroes: U.S. Army Medal of Honor RecipientsYes, we have honored him with accolades, medals, parades, brick and mortar. Such is not an adequate honor for a man such as this. He is worth of the honor of our heart. Let's perpetually honor this brave man and his comrades in arms, who died for our freedom, by consistently referring to our coliseum with pride as the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial as it was rightfully intended to be!

Visit the official history page of the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

1 comment:

  1. You Sir even though not here physical your memories
    will never be forgetting... and you now are my hero


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