Local soldiers inducted into Alabama Hall of Honor

Published 1:14 am Saturday, October 31, 2009

Relatives, comrades and friends came to Marion Military Institute on Friday to honor two American heroes.

Gallion native Brig. Gen. John W. Collins and Col. Julian “Buzz” Sawyer of Demopolis were inducted into the Alabama Military Hall of Honor in front of more than 100 onlookers.

Collins and Sawyer were honored for having made outstanding contributions to Alabama by their military achievements and service.

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Both men served in Vietnam. Collins, 88, attended Marion Military Institute and was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after graduation.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry in 1943 and joined the 106th Infantry Division during World War II in Europe. In the Korean War, he served with ground troops of the 45th and 2nd Infantry Divisions.

He was commander and deputy commander of the 1st Brigade 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. In Vietnam, he earned two Silver Stars, the Distinguished Flying Crosses, Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with Star for his heroic actions during combat.

He lives in San Antonio, Texas. Sawyer, 71, was born in Mobile and started his Air Force career in 1946. He served in the United States, Europe and Vietnam on assignments after flight training. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal after helping rescue an injured crewman whose F100F aircraft crashed and burst into flames on Sept. 24, 1959, at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, S.C. As a wing commander and fighter pilot in Vietnam, he earned the Silver Star, five Distinguished Flying Crosses and 23 Air Medals.

He provided close air support for U.S. Army Ground Forces. Sawyer is the manager of the Demopolis Regional Airport. During the induction ceremony, Col. David J. Mollahan praised the two men’s service in Vietnam for their actions during a turbulent time in United States history. Mollahan is the president of Marion Military Institute and vice chairman of the Alabama Military Hall of Honor board of directors.

“These were significant achievements in any war,” Mollahan said. “But especially during the war in Vietnam.”

Mollahan emphasized the difficult era during which Collins and Sawyer fought and the effect of the fighting in Vietnam on the United States.

“When you talk about Vietnam, it was a unique war in a unique time,” he said. “It left a scar on the national conscience that we still bear today. … In many ways, it was the driving force behind social change,” He said, “It was a trying time, an uncertain time. So many people began to lose respect for people wearing a uniform.”

Mollahan, however, said Collins and Sawyer had distinguished military careers during an unpopular era.

“The men we honor today help remind us of the war we fought in Vietnam,” he said. “It’s doesn’t matter if you think you are heroes or not. It matters if we think you are heroes.”

The Hall of Honor was established on Jan. 23, 1975, to honor Alabama’s military heroes and to provide a permanent and visible tribute. Collins and Sawyer each were honored with a 20-by-30-inch bronze plaque with their likenesses. The museum also displays a variety of military memorabilia, such as weapons, uniforms, patches and photographs.