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John Lawrence

Company A-2

22 Jan 1938 – 16 Sep 1971

Place of Death: KIA-RVN

John Lawrence

Class Memorial Pages\A-2 Jack Lawrence.pdf

THE MAC CHARTERED DC-7 ROLLED TO A STOP on the tarmac of Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone, after a seemingly interminable flight from Charleston, SC. It was a blazing hot day in August 1962, and I finally arrived at my first duty station. As I started to exit the aircraft, someone shouted. At the bottom of the stairway stood Jack Lawrence. As he had done for so many of his classmates during our cadet years, Jack was ready to show me the ropes.

Jack was the son of Altice (Adams) and John Sr., and the small town of Farmington, NH, was home. Graduating from Farmington High School in 1956, Jack spent a year at the University of New Hampshire before deciding to don cadet gray. In later years, I told Jack that he did not have a “Plebe Year” due to his college “speck,” his voice which earned him a spot in the Cadet Choir, and his skiing ability that allowed him to escape to the West Point ski slope. Jack’s retort was that he had actually spent most of those hours teaching his classmates of the “Southern Persuasion” how to arrive at the bottom of the hill in one piece. In all fairness, he made up for these leisure hours by spending many hours coaching his more academically challenged classmates in virtually every subject then known to the Academic Board.

While Jack loved his “rockbound highland home,” he tried to take advantage of every trip involving snow. On one such escape, having lost an argument with a mogul, he tore his ski pants. Modesty was served, however, when Barbara Cullen (who became our Homecoming Queen) arrived on the scene armed with needle and thread. Thus began the romance that led Jack and Barbara to the altar on 15 July 1961.

At branch drawing, Jack selected Artillery and later reported for duty in the Canal Zone. Some may recall the apparent invincibility of an RCAT (Remote Controlled Airborne Target) trooping the line before madly firing 40-millimeter automatic weapons during our First Class trip to Fort Bliss. They will understand Jack’s dismay at learning that he was to be one of only four lieutenants in the entire active U.S. Army to be assigned as a platoon leader of that redoubtable weapons system.

With manual in hand, and with the help of very professional NCOs, Jack quickly learned that the M42 AW (Duster) was indeed an effective and versatile weapon. When the rest of ’61 arrived, Jack taught us the fine points of direct and indirect fire at surface targets and how to ruin the day for RCAT controllers. At other times, Jack instructed us on finer points of jungle living.

On one occasion, he decided to teach me how to hunt for the small jungle deer whose name I have mercifully forgotten. Armed with a shotgun, Jack led me into the unknown, and very soon we came face to face with a 250 pound-jaguar. Now, jaguars are not shy, retiring animals, and a hastily aimed shot served only to affirm that this piece of jungle was his territory (or hers, since we didn’t take time to check). We conducted a rapid retrograde movement that some might describe as flight. On another occasion, the two of us decided to sleep in a circa 1920 seacoast artillery bunker — straight from “The Guns of Navarone.” During the night we discovered we were sharing our quarters with a very large boa constrictor. Again, we conducted a rapid retrograde maneuver. But lest anyone think that our Panama adventure was only low comedy, Jack and his platoon performed admirably during the bloody riots that unhappily occurred in Panama in January 1964.

From Panama, Jack, Barbara, and their new daughter, Stephanie, reported to Fort Sill to attend the Artillery Officer’s Career Course. Although Jack was a serious student, his golf game improved significantly during those 8 months. At the end of the course, he received orders for Vietnam. Jack was the S-5, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division during Operation Cedar Falls when the S-2 handed him a Viet Cong prisoner. This VC allegedly knew the location of a weapons cache, and Jack led a small patrol to find it. He maneuvered his patrol to the location of the cache only to discover that it was in a tunnel complex. Since there were no Tunnel Rats (tunnel clearing personnel) available, Jack drew upon his own personal bravery and went into the complex where he discovered a substantial enemy weapons cache. For his action and conspicuous valor, he was awarded the Silver Star.

Upon completion of this tour, Jack reported to the University of Florida in Gainsville as an instructor in the ROTC program. All agree that Jack was a very effective instructor but noted that his golf game continued to improve and his ability on water skis approached that of his downhill skiing prowess. Of much more import was the fact that son Michael joined the family.

In November 1970, Jack was reassigned to Vietnam to Advisory Team 91 in Binh Duong Province. On 16 September 1971, he received a call from a member of a group accompanying the District S-1 en route to a meeting at Province Headquarters. The group had been ambushed, and the sole survivor was calling for help. Assembling available personnel, Jack formed a composite unit and led them toward the ambush site. As the relief column moved to the aid of their beleaguered comrades, they, too, were ambushed. Jack was in the lead and was severely wounded in the initial exchange but succeeded in repulsing the initial VC assault before he fell mortally wounded. A warrior to the end, Jack’s lead from the front style and his do or die commitment to his mission were so inspirational that his unit successfully broke out of their dire situation and joined other friendly forces. Jack received a Silver Star posthumously for yet another act of conspicuous valor.

In subsequent years, Barbara obtained advanced degrees in speech therapy and accomplished wonders working with handicapped children. Stephanie became a flight attendant for Delta Airlines and presented Barbara with her first grandchild, Hannah Grace. Michael obtained a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) and is now a consultant for Government Connect.

The value of life is measured not only in years but also in the quality of service rendered. Jack was taken from his family and friends much too soon, but I cling to the idea that his loss was not without meaning. Jack understood that freedom is the sure possession of only those who have the courage to defend it. His sacrifice for the ideals in which he believed gave value to his life beyond measure. If a man has done his best, and Jack did, what else is there?

— A classmate

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