"A soldier's soldier." That is what they all said about Lt. Col. William C. "Doc" Stinson, Jr., a native of Laurens County. Members of veteran's and patriotic organizations joined dozens of members of the Stinson family at the First Baptist Family Life Center on Memorial Day to honor the memory of Lt. Col. Stinson, a graduate of West Point, one of the first advisors to serve in Vietnam and one of the highest ranking officers to be killed in battle during the Vietnam War. His memory will be permanently preserved with the naming of the northern leg of the Highway 441 Bypass in his honor.
Last year, Laurens County Commissioner Buddy Adams launched an effort to honor the two-time recipient of the Silver Star, our nation's third highest award for heroism. Adams contacted state officials and worked diligently to make the project a reality. Later this year around Veteran's Day, the southern leg of the bypass will be named for Lt. Kelso Horne, one of the oldest paratroopers on D-Day and whose picture on the cover of Life magazine is still one of the most coveted by military collectors today.
Members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and National Daughters of the American Revolution were present as well as a host of family friends and patriots. The Laurens County Rural Fire Department, led by Dan Bray, the Official State of Georgia bagpiper, posted the colors. Mrs. E.B. Claxton, Jr., John Laurens Chapter, N.S.D.A.R., led the audience in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Elizabeth Holmes, a senior at Trinity Christian High School, sung a stirring rendition of the National Anthem. After a presentation of the life story of Col. Stinson by Scott B. Thompson, Sr., Clay Young, also a senior at Trinity Christian School, inspired those present with his performance of Lee Greenwood's, God Bless the U.S.A..
Mike Letson, a son-in-law of Lt. Col. Stinson, spoke on behalf of the Stinson family. He thanked Buddy Adams for hosting and organizing the event. Letson told the story of a man, he never knew, but reiterated the universal adjectives which described him; courageous, caring, and dedicated. He told of his achievements during his career and that his father-in-law lost his life while rescuing his dead and dying soldiers. Letson spoke of the significant legacy Stinson left to his family by saying,
"He made a huge sacrifice in serving his country, in that he never knew his adult family. "I am sure that Col. Stinson is smiling down on us all today," Letson concluded.
Col. Ray Battle, a classmate of Col. Stinson at West Point, spoke of his days at the Academy with his friend. Before beginning his remarks, Col. Battle recognized the veterans and current members of the armed forces present in the audience.
Battle stated that if he ever wrote about a book about his friend, he would call it Born To Be A Soldier. Battle stated, "It was two young boys from Dublin, Georgia confined to a prison with gray granite walls right in the middle of Yankee land where they taught us everything we did except to pray in their bunks at night."
Stinson and Battle became close friends in same company at Camp Bunker. He remembered the time when he and Stinson learned of the elder Stinson's capture by the enemy in North Korea. Battle continued, " Doc made a friend of all who came his way. He chose to be an infantry officer. His oustanding career was cut short when he was attempting to rescue his men." .
In the beginning of their senior year, Doc volunteered to be a cheerleader for the Army football team. "Back in 1949, men played football and women were cheerleaders," Battle quipped. Battle asked his friend, "What in the world you doing this for?" To which "Doc" responded, "Ray, it is like this: Army is going to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta this year and I will travel with the team. When I get there, Mildred will be there." Battle smiled. Upon graduation Doc and Mildred were married in the chapel at West Point.
Battle hoped, "I wish there was a way to put on that sign, 'Lt. Col. William "Doc" Stinson and family,' because their sacrifice is very real." "Doc Stinson was born to be a soldier. He lived a soldier's life. And, he died being a solider." And, what a magnificent soldier he was." one of Stinson's oldest and dearest friends concluded.
All eyes turned to stage left as Lt. Col. Stinson's first cousins, Buddy Adams and Jimmy Stinson, unveiled one of the official state highway markers which will be put in place on Tuesday. Adams made special arrangements to have four smaller versions of the sign, which he and Jimmy Stinson presented to the Colonel's widow, Mildred Stinson, and his daughters, Dawn, Leigh, and Katherine, along with seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild and a host of other relatives.
The colors were retired to the hauntingly beautiful Amazing Grace and God Bless America. Promptly at three o'clock during the reception, members of the American Legion called for a moment of silence as the crowd paused for the National Moment of Remembrance while bagpiper Bray played taps.
After the meeting, Mrs. Stinson spoke of her husband fondly, "I told him not to go to combat in Vietnam, but he went away." She remembered the good times she and her husband had during his military career. "Some people didn't enjoy it, but we did. We got to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. My husband never met a stranger," the native of Glenwood and former resident of Dublin concluded.
Photographs of ceremony by Kathy Thompson.