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FedEx Pilot Receives DSC 30+ Years Late

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Jan 4, 2002
[URL="http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/uploads/medium/OCPA-2005-03-28-175855.jpg"]http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/uploads/medium/OCPA-2005-03-28-175855.jpg[/URL] Gen. Richard Cody, vice chief of staff of the Army, presents Stephen A. Lawrence with the certificate for the Distinguished Service Cross at the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. March 25.
Staff Sgt. Reeba Critser
Soldier receives medal more than 30 years after heroics in Vietnam

By Spc. Justin Nieto
March 28, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. --(Army News Service, March 28, 2005) Better late than never for Stephen Lawrence, who received the Distinguished Service Cross at the Pentagon March 25, more than 33 years after his heroic actions in Vietnam.

“What an appropriate place to honor one of our American heroes who served in Vietnam,” said Gen. Richard A. Cody, vice chief of staff for the Army, who served as the presenter of the award at the Hall of Heroes.

“On Oct. 5, 1971, Warrant Officer [2] Stephen Lawrence was a pilot serving with 3rd Platoon of the 135th Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam,” Cody said. “Earlier that afternoon, he had received orders to support a medivac extraction.

“Stephen flew the lead gunship of a two-ship formation that was to link up with the medivac helicopters,” Cody said. “The first extraction at a firebase went very smoothly, but upon arrival for the second extraction the medivacs immediately drew fire.”

Lawrence’s formation, composed of two UH-1M helicopters, began circling the area while providing covering fire for the extraction. Soon after, the second ship reported taking a hit and attempted to land as soon as possible.

Lawrence exhausted his stores of ammunition, minus the malfunctioning rockets and his door gunners’ M-60s, covering the extraction of the second gunship’s crew, continued Cody. “When additional gunships arrived, Steve caught up with the command-and-control ship and headed back to base.

“When one of those assisting gunships reported he was going down, Steve immediately turned around,” Cody said “He saw the ship go down on the side of a small village and all the crew members run from the helicopter.”

Lawrence and his crew realized they were going to have to turn their gunship in to an emergency rescue medivac, according to Cody.

“In preparation, he jettisoned his rocket pods and his door gunners gathered up all available ammo for their M-60s,” Cody said. “As he approached, the enemy fire increased, but he was able to land the helicopter.”

Lawrence and his crew waited for a few tense minutes for the crew of the downed helicopter, but they never came in to sight. Lawrence had no choice but to take off as the enemy fire began to increase, said Cody.

As he did so, he spotted the downed crew running out of a building toward the aircraft. Lawrence landed again and his crew was able to get the other crew safely aboard, Cody said.

The skid of the helicopter had been damaged extensively and as soon as Lawrence landed the ship back at base had everyone disembark immediately, before he himself got out.

Moments later, rotor wash from a CH-47 helicopter passed by and caused the skid to collapse, destroying the helicopter Lawrence piloted minutes earlier, said Cody.

“I truly believed I was going to die that day,” Cody said, quoting one of the rescued crew members from that day. “I truly believe that the heroism displayed by Stephen Lawrence and his crew is still unbelievable 33 years later.”

Lawrence’s chain of command submitted his valorous actions for a Medal of Honor and his crewmembers all received Silver Stars for their bravery.

However, he left the Army only 28 days later and didn’t here anything about his award until early March 2005.

“To receive this at all, and to receive this here is just overwhelming,” said Lawrence after accepting his award. “There were people who did things equally heroic and did not receive anything. So I am accepting it for all of them.”

“In those combat situations, you react, you do and you do what needs to be done. And, you just hope for the best,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence emphasized his point, saying information wasn’t exactly free-flowing back then, making recognition for acts of bravery difficult. Some service members acts went unnoticed.

Lawrence went unnoticed himself for 33 years, drifting in and out of the Army National Guard along with both active and reserve Coast Guard terms of service, retiring from the latter as a lieutenant commander.

Rich Boreland, who works for the National Archives, researched Lawrence’s recommendation for a Medal of Honor and found it had been lowered slightly to the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor in war.

It was then he discovered Lawrence had not been informed or physically awarded anything.

“Actually the entire process took about 15 minutes,” said Boreland. “I can’t really know how the clerical error was made. It was many years ago.”

Boreland said because Lawrence was out of the service by the time of the award’s approval that might have caused it to slip through the cracks, until now.

Boreland said although this has happened before, he has never seen it at occur at the level of a Distinguished Service Cross.

(Editor's note: Spc. Justin Nieto is a member of the Military District of Washington News Service)

Soldier receives medal more than 30 years after heroics in Vietnam
Wow, great story...thanks for sharing. Sounds like Lawrence was truely a "selfless hero". As were many that served in that conflict.

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