Traverse City Record-Eagle

Columns

November 11, 2012

Loraine Anderson: Purple Heart, air wings and heroes

Terry Hawn wanted the story about him in today's Northern Living section to focus on his heroes:

His doctors, nurses and physical therapist. A woman working in a doctor's office whose son was killed in Afghanistan. The young soldiers he's seen in overseas war zones and military hospitals here at home — young and wounded, struggling with crippling or disfiguring injuries and post-traumatic stress.

That story and this column originated with a tip from someone who attended a Sept. 7 Hagerty Center ceremony where Hawn was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in a 2010 rocket attack in Iraq.

As Hawn walked back to his seat, he unpinned the medal and handed it to his 14-year-old nephew, Rob Goebbels of Howell.

"Now don't go trading that for bubble gum," he told the ninth-grader, who was overwhelmed by the gesture.

"I knew it was an important award," Rob said. "I started crying because I knew it was really special and that he really wanted me to have it. It means a lot to me. It was the happiest day of my life. I will always cherish and take care of it."

Since the ceremony, Hawn has parceled out other mementos of his Army years to niece Amber and nephew Dougy.

"That's the thing to do with that stuff," he said.

Podiatrist Dan Lathrop, who treated Hawn's foot and ankle injuries, also received a gift just before Hawn's shoulder surgery last month — Hawn's first aviator wings pin earned in 1985 after his Army pilot training.

The wings had special meaning for the doctor. When he was a boy in the 1950s, his uncle, a World War II pilot, gave him his air wings — an act that has had a permanent effect on his life. He told that story to Hawn after the Purple Heart ceremony.

On Oct. 29, Hawn handed something to Lathrop, who came to the hospital at 6:30 a.m. with his other doctors to wish Hawn well before his shoulder surgery.

"He said something to the effect that, 'These aren't your uncle's wings and I know they don't mean as much, but I hope you'll enjoy having these," Lathrop recounted.

"That's Terry, though," Lathrop said. "He's a great person, selfless, generous, reliable, honest, brave — a true hero with a humble demeanor."

For years, Lathrop has refused to accept payment for many injured vets in active service. It's a practice he started during the Vietnam War when he began removing shrapnel from the feet and legs of injured soldiers.

"Even if they have insurance, I can't charge them," Lathrop said. "It's been my posture for the past several years. They've done so much for our country. I'm very concerned about these soldiers.

"I hope this story is about Terry, though," he told me. "He's the hero."

Loraine Anderson can be reached at landerson@record-eagle.com.

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