Neighbor to Neighbor: Man from Laurelton embodies service to nation, community

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Whenever you take the opportunity to walk to a shopping district, you avoid parking problems, get exercise and have an opportunity to meet and greet neighbors. Since this is the last Neighbor to Neighbor column, I thought it appropriate to let you meet in it a wonderful Laurelton family: the Lawrence Harris family.

In October, I was chatting with a neighbor from the next block. Another neighbor from my block, Lawrence Harris, happened along and joined the conversation. We were fascinated to hear he was going to Fayetteville, N.C., to witness his 281st Assault Helicopter Co. receive multiple Awards for service during the Vietnam War and the dedication of a monument to them — the only such monument honoring a U.S. Army company.

Larry Harris had been a Specialist Four with the 281st Assault Helicopter Co. He was drafted as a young man at 21, eager to protect our country. He trained at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and, although the training was grueling, strong bonds were formed. When his basic training was completed, Larry went to Fort Rucker in Alabama for helicopter school, where he became an expert helicopter mechanic.

He went on to Fort Benning in Georgia, where the 281st Assault Helicopter Co. was formed. Leaving the states, he and a friend flew together on each flight over the Vietnam jungles. The 281st Assault Helicopter Co. was instrumental in the reconnaissance that was the mainstay of the 5th Special Forces Group, Special Projects and Special Operations units.

This war was different because the enemy was often part of the civilian population — like old women or children with bombs strapped to their bodies. Wars are always hell, but for a religious, compassionate young person, it must have been almost too hard to bear. Faith makes surviving possible for some and even sustains others in difficult situations.

One of Larry’s friends was lost in the jungle for six days. From the tone of his voice while recalling how he worried about him, Larry surely was there with him at least in spirit and prayer.

Larry himself had been out on two long tours. As soon as he returned to his home base, Larry’s sargeant told him he would have to go back out again. Another of his friends went to him and asked, “Did he tell you you have to go back out?”

Larry said, “Yes.”

The friend said, “I’ll tell the sargeant I’ll go in your place.”

Larry assured him he would be all right going again and, besides, he knew the sargeant would never allow the switch.

For some reason, however, the sargeant granted permission for the change and the matter was taken out of Larry’s hands. Larry told me some time later, when I went to visit him and his wife to find out some details about his service, that he had not been able to mention this incident for many years because that friend never came back. He had been killed three days after the switch. He will always be in Larry’s heart and prayers, I am sure.

Larry’s friends and neighbors are grateful he was spared so he could come to Laurelton and raise his family here. His wife was active in the Girl Scouts of America when their little girl, April, would come around selling Girl Scout cookies. Their son, Larry, would ride to and from work on his bike every day along Merrick Boulevard, often arriving home before the commuter bus I took home. They have always been a positive addition to our community — quiet, unassuming and gracious.

Dad Larry is still active with some of his old Veterans of Foreign Wars buddies. He tries to keep their “VFW family” contracts up-to-date and attends reunions and meetings about the status of the St. Albans hospital facility. How wonderful it would be if every community could be comprised of folks like these. We do have some here, for which we are grateful.

Mr. Harris said it was not easy for African Americans to progress in aviation, particularly in the Army, when he went in, but he proved himself to be a good soldier and citizen. He still feels the effects of Agent Orange and, I suspect, still feels bitter about the way some ungrateful people greeted returning military personnel after their service experiences in Vietnam. Please be grateful for all those who have served and those who are still serving. Their service is to protect our country and us.

Congratulations, Larry Harris and family, and may God protect our country and all people who want and work for peace, harmony and honor.

Updated 6:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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