Students killed in Vietnam to be remembered with school's rebuilt memorial
By KIMBERLY BARKER | The Joplin Globe | Published: January 31, 2018
LAMAR, Mo. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE) — Jerry D. Lawson, 71, will never forget the day his twin brother died during the Vietnam War.
It was Feb. 8, 1967. Lawson’s twin, Gerry, was serving in the U.S. Army as a spotter and died after being hit by friendly fire in Tay Ninh province, South Vietnam. Lawson, of Joplin, said he and his brother had a strong connection and that he sensed something was wrong the day of his death.
He described having a vivid dream of his brother dying and seeing a bright light.
“I knew the night he died because I saw all of this going on in my mind that Sunday night,” said Lawson, who was 20 at the time. “It was like God’s way of telling me that he was taking Gerry with him.”
A memorial at Lamar High School’s football field honors the six Vietnam-era casualties from that district: Jarel Wayne Ayers, Dec. 31, 1966; Howard Wilson Layne Jr., July 14, 1970; Donald Eugene White, March 5, 1967; John Adrian Dossett Jr., June 11, 1970; Cordis Ray White, Sept. 18, 1969; and Gerry W. Lawson, Feb. 8, 1967.
Installed on the grounds 50 years ago, the plaques and flagpole are beginning to show wear and age. Now, the groups that helped dedicate the memorial — the class of 1968, faculty of Lamar High School and community members — are working to revitalize the structure.
“The benefit of the school is the community and the benefit of this community is the school,” Lamar Superintendent Zach Harris said. “We work closely on a number of different projects. The class of 1968 has been involved in helping get the word out and has been great in trying to get our community involved in this project.”
As part of the revitalization project, the memorial and flagpole will be taken down and rebuilt. A 30-foot flagpole will be held by a concrete base and will be illuminated. New granite plaques will be made for the soldiers, and a flower bed will encompass the memorial. The school plans to copy the text verbatim from the original plaques and hopes to add sketches from the students’ yearbook pictures.
Harris said the project will cost about $7,000, and the school has already begun receiving donations.
“The school was going to definitely update it, and this just gives a little more opportunity for those in the community and organizations to be a part of a remodel project and something that pays such tremendous respect for several Lamar High School students,” he said.
The school plans to start construction after the high school’s graduation ceremony in May and hopes to have it completed by the first home football game in August.
In remembrance of his brother, Lawson wrote a song several years ago titled “My Twin Brother.” The lyrics begin: “My twin brother lost his life, the night I saw the brightest light, but he’s at rest, so I won’t worry anymore.”
After hearing about plans to rebuild the memorial, Lawson said he approved and contacted the school district. He donated a CD of the song along with his brother’s Purple Heart medal, Army records and a framed picture of his twin wearing his uniform.
“I enjoyed visiting with him, and I showed him around the school, heard his stories,” Harris said. “At the end of the day, I was appreciative of him taking a few minutes out of his day for me.”
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