Sunday, May 27, 2018

The owner paid a lot more than a dollar

Posted Sunday, May 27, 2018
SUMITON - Robbie Soles of Birmingham was rummaging through booths at a flea market in Birmingham last month when she came across something interesting. It was an Army medal. She bought it for her grandfather, Billy Manning of Sumiton.  

One look at the medal and Manning, who is a 90-year-old veteran, knew what it was. When his granddaughter told him that she’d bought it at a flea market for $1, he shook his head. “I
knew the instant I opened the case that the original owner had paid a lot more than a dollar for the medal.”

It was a Purple Heart. It turns out, he was right.

Manning, who served in the Army from 1948 to 1955, had no idea how the medal wound up among pocket knives, garden tools and handbags. “I knew I didn’t deserve the Purple Heart,” he said.  

He decided to contact Bill Fowler of the Sumiton Area Veterans Memorial to get some help tracking down the owner.

Manning asked Fowler if it would be possible to display the Purple Heart in the Veterans Memorial case at the Sumiton Community Center. 

“Maybe we could put it in there and put a tag that said “Lost Warrior” or something,” Manning remembered. “I just knew it didn’t belong in a bin at a flea market. Something must have happened to the man this medal belonged to, or maybe someone stole it from him."

Fowler told Manning the least he could do would be to display it in the Veterans Memorial case, but he wanted to do more. Fowler examined the pin trying to find a number that would give some clues about its owner. When he flipped the medal over, “For Military Merit SSG Lawson,” was inscribed on the back. SSG stands for staff sergeant. 

“Most people call the Purple Heart a medal, but recipients and their families don’t call it a medal,” said Fowler. 

He explained that this medal is not for good conduct, or for marksmanship, but a recognition for the price soldiers paid in service to their country. The U.S. Military awards Purple Hearts to soldiers killed or wounded in combat.

Fowler enlisted the help of Sumiton Police Department. Communications Supervisor Nick Key went to work trying to track down information on Lawson. Fowler also contacted the Daily Mountain Eagle to get some publicity and maybe help track down Lawson. 

Fowler thought the Purple Heart came from one of the conflicts after Vietnam. 

“We have Alfred and Wayne Phillips’ Purple Hearts on display at the Sumiton Veteran Memorial,” Fowler said. “Alfred’s is from WWII and his son Wayne’s is from Vietnam. Both of those Purple Hearts were a little different,” according to Fowler. Neither of those had a name inscribed on the back. 

A Google search using the words inscribed on the back got several hits. The first link led to a document about SST Eric Lawson from a memorial service in Stockbridge, Georgia. Lawson, who was born in Birmingham but raised in Stockbridge, died July 27 in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their vehicle with an improvised explosive device (IED) and small arms fire. 

A subsequent Google search found an obituary for the soldier, who left a wife, son, mother, father, and siblings.

Research turned up a Facebook page entitled: Wall of Honor for Lawson. One of the comments on that page was from Staff Sgt. Matthew McCall of Sanford, North Carolina. McCall had been a personal friend of Lawson. A private message sent to McCall prompted a response. McCall said that he would contact the family to find out if his friend's Purple Heart was missing. 

Victoria Freeman, Lawson’s sister, responded. She said the family received four Purple Hearts when her brother died. One went to Lawson’s widow, one to his mother, one to his sister (Victoria), and one to his father. The wife, mother, and sister had their medal medals. When Victoria contacted her father in Birmingham, he said his medal had been stolen.

Attempts to contact Lawson’s father were unsuccessful at press time. Fowler said that as soon as he can make arrangements he will personally ensure the father receives the Purple Heart.

In the meantime, Fowler will display the Purple Heart in the Sumiton Veterans Memorial case.


  1. What a fabulous story and I'm so glad that soldier's father will receive his medal. So many stories and so many heroes we will remember this weekend. I'm looking forward to the parade in our town tomorrow to pay my respects. Thanks for your service Rick, and I just might show up to inspect that bathroom from your previous post! Ha!

  2. You have a happy ending. Believe it or not a similar situation happened to me. Someone had purchased a Purple Heart at an estate sale. My brother's name was engraved on it. After a couple of years of searching I saw my brother's name in a post and read the story. After much communication (they needed to know I was a next of kin) I finally have the medal. I think this may happen more often than you might think. Thank goodness for good Samaritans.

  3. Fantastic story. THANks. And thanks is not enough for those who gave all, but it is about the best we who are left can do. Thanks so much, and yes MILLIONS OF TIMES MORE than a dollar.

    Thanks for this story!

  4. Excellent detective work. I am so glad it is going home.

  5. What a wonderful story. So glad the purple heart medal was returned to the proper place. My dad was a purple heart recipient and every day of my life I was a witness to the sacrifice he made. His face with riddled with scars even after plastic surgery. He was hospitalized for over a year after he was wounded in WWII. Definitely is worth more than a dollar.

  6. What a great story and very timely for Memorial day. Congratulations for getting the story published.
    Hugs, Julia

  7. Wonderful story, Rick! So pleased you were afforded the opportunity to shed light on young Lawson's sacrifice.

  8. Anonymous2:24 PM

    What price do we put on life & limb?

  9. Well done, Rick. That Purple Heart certainly didn't belong with a bunch of trinkets.


  10. What a great story good that the owner was found as it is important for it to go back to his rightful owner.

  11. Amazing!! Loved the kids picking the blueberries, and I would love a slice of Jildas cake and to have a visit in your neck of the woods!
    Enjoy your summer!!


Please consider sharing

Email Signup Form

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required