The battle for freedom continues

Published 3:01 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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This coming Monday (May 27) is Memorial Day. To me, that is the most important holiday of all as it recognizes those brave men and women in uniform who laid down their lives in order for us to remain a free nation.

Without their sacrifice, I may not enjoy the freedom to express my opinion openly, as I do weekly in this space, and you may be reading these words (perhaps heavily edited) in another language.

Most every little town and big city in the United States will conduct a special ceremony on May 27. If one is near where you live, I highly recommend you consider attending….you may learn the story of a real American hero that once lived nearby.

Today I’m sharing the story of three such heroes, each of whom once made their home in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Jarvis Godwin “Buddy” Outland was born Sept. 8, 1919. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938 and was assigned to the USS Oklahoma as a Fireman First Class. Due to the fact that he was only 17-years-old at the time, his father signed the enlistment papers, giving his blessing for his young son to serve in the military.

For those of us who remember our history lessons from school, the USS Oklahoma was among those anchored at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. That battleship was among those sunk or severely damaged during a surprise attack by the Japanese Navy. Four hundred twenty nine crewmen on the Oklahoma lost their lives that day, to include Outland.

In the weeks and months following this wartime disaster, Outland’s body was listed as “non-recoverable” by the U.S. Navy. That all changed beginning in 2015 when the U.S. Department of Defense issued a directive to identify those unknown heroes. In most all cases, DNA was used in that effort.

Since 2017, Outland is one of more than 100 crewmen of the Oklahoma whose remains have been labeled as “recovered.” His remains were officially identified on March 19, 2018.

In an emotional ceremony – which included full Naval Military Honors – that I covered on Nov. 3, 2018, Outland’s remains were interred at a graveside service at Riverside Cemetery in Murfreesboro. There, he finally made it home, 80 years after he sailed off to defend our nation. He was laid to rest next to his father, Jacob, and brother, Clinton.

Joe Howard graduated from Ahoskie High School in 1958. His friends said he longed to fly, a dream that eventually became reality after completing his education in 1962 at NC State University.

Mr. Howard joined the Air Force and learned, perhaps from the seat of his pants, to fly jets. He went on to log over 300 missions during the Viet Nam War, earning numerous medals, including the famed Purple Heart, along the way.

But his love of the freedom of flight failed to stop there as he became part of the famed US Air Force Thunderbirds, a group famous for their precision aerial maneuvers that exhibit the capabilities of modern, high performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those state-of-the-art flying machines.

Major Joe Howard joined that elite team in 1971, taking over the right wing position. The team performed 114 shows that year, including a 30-day tour of the European continent that broke all previous European attendance records

Then came that one fateful day on June 4, 1972. It was during the Transpo 72 air show at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC where Major Howard, flying Thunderbird 3, lost his life. His jet experienced mechanical problems and he steered his aircraft out of formation, away from the spectators, and flew over the woods. It was obvious that Major Howard was doing so in an effort to prevent his jet from crashing into a huge crowd.

He stayed in the plane long enough to save the audience members below, but lost his own life when the plane exploded and burned his parachute. Only a person with a deep love of his fellow man, a vast majority of which he never knew, would have sacrificed his own life in an effort to save others.

Fortunately for people like me, Howard’s love and dedication to man and country was never forgotten by his former friends and classmates back in Ahoskie. They put together a fundraising effort to have a monument erected in No Man’s Land Park in downtown Ahoskie in Howard’s memory. That monument was dedicated on May 3, 2008.

A little more than two years later, the week of Christmas – 2010 wasn’t very “merry” for the family, friends, and comrades in arms who knew and loved U.S. Army Sgt. Willie Atlas “Will” McLawhorn Jr. They gathered on Dec. 18 at Conway Baptist Church to say goodbye and pay their respect to a young who died in combat thousands of miles away from his Northampton County home.

McLawhorn was killed in action on Dec. 12, 2010 in Sangsar, Afghanistan. That attack also claimed the lives of five other brave soldiers, who, like Will, died so we can cling to freedom.

In 2006, McLawhorn enlisted in the U.S. Army. Upon graduation from basic training, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division where he became a part of the Screaming Eagle family.

Prior to deployment to Iraq in 2007, he graduated from Air Assault School, earning his Air Assault Wings. He served 15 months in Iraq and reenlisted for five years while there. During the next months he earned his Airborne Jump Wings as well as additional training for becoming an NCO.

In June of 2010 he deployed with his unit to Afghanistan. He grew to love his country and wanted to protect her…even if it meant giving his life. He loved his band of brothers who affectionately called him “Claw.”

I’ve heard countless times over the years that freedom isn’t free. That’s so true. When the original 13 colonies earned freedom from England through victory in the Revolutionary War, we have to keep winning wars and conflicts to maintain our way of life. Unfortunately, blood will be shed and lives will lost in that continuous effort, but as long as there are brave men and women to stand guard, we can continue to honor them on Memorial Day and each and every day.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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