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World War II veteran receives Purple Heart after 68 years

11:47 PM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
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Charles Lawson Jr., 91, takes pride in the few items he has left from his military service: a few shell casings, a photograph, and a military cap with his battalion's buttons. 

"I got this one and put it in my duffel bag and brought it back home," he said, showing off his World War II 76 mm shell casing.

But for 68 years there was a piece missing in his collection, one he deserved, but never received: a Purple Heart.

"I knew they were working on it," Lawson said.

An 18-year-old Lawson joined the Army at Fort Benning, Ga. in 1940 under Colonel George S. Patton.

"When he was a bird colonel, I chauffeured him a couple of times on an motorcycle with a side car," he said.

A small accident with the colonel, where a rock landed the pair in ditch, had him worried about his future.

"He said at that time that was the last motorcycle he would ever ride," Lawson said of Patton.

But it wasn't long before he was fighting in Gen. Patton's Third Army in Europe in the 774th tank battalion and the 822nd tank battalion from 1943 until 1945.

Lawson recalls their tank being hit with enemy fire five times. But they kept going.

It was a cold December day that sticks out in his memory.

"The Battle of the Bulge was where I was hit by indirect fire coming in. I just ducked down in the top of tank and left this hand on the top of the tank," he said.

A large piece of shrapnel hit his hand before he could get inside. He didn't want to seek medical attention because he wanted to keep fighting. So he got another soldier to provide a temporary fix. He put on two pairs of gloves and kept on loading the tank's guns.

Lawson and his unit stayed until after the war.

He waited to get his Purple Heart and it never came.

"I was going through Charles' file and I found a Western Union telegram that said he was wounded in action. I said, 'Where's your Purple Heart?' He said, 'They never gave it to me,'" said Blount County Veteran Services Officer, Nathan Weinbaum.

Weinbaum used the telegram to file paper work to the Army. In May 2013, they approved his Purple Heart.

At Thursday's Blount County Commission meeting, an Army representative, Weinbaum, and Mayor Ed Mitchell presented him with the recognition.

"It's wonderful. I knew I would get it eventually but I didn't know if I would be around for it and I was. And that's what I was glad of," Lawson said.

Sixty-eight years later, he finally completed his collection.

Lawson got back in the Army after World War II. He joined a reserve unit in the '50s and earned the rank of sergeant. He's been in Maryville ever since.


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