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Many Triad residents have attended events at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum since it opened in 1989. It replaced the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum and was named in part for Winston-Salem’s only recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for heroism in combat.
Lawrence Joel was born in Winston-Salem in 1928 and joined the Army in 1946 at the age of 18. He was trained as a medical corpsman and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
In November 1965, Joel’s battalion sustained heavy casualties after it was ambushed by a Viet Cong force that outnumbered them six to one. Throughout the battle Joel moved from man to man treating the wounded, even after being shot in the leg by a machine gun. During what became a 24-hour battle, Joel was wounded a second time in the leg, but continued to drag himself, exposed to enemy fire, to treat the wounded.
In recognition of his heroic actions, President Lyndon Johnson presented Joel with the Congressional Medal of Honor on March 9, 1967. He was the first medic and the first living African American since the Spanish American War to receive the Medal of Honor. In April 1967, Winston-Salem held a parade in Joel’s honor. The New York Times called it the biggest tribute the city had ever staged.
Lawrence Joel retired from the Army in 1973. He died in 1984 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1986, a year before construction of the new coliseum began, the Board of Aldermen voted to name the building in honor of Joel and all Forsyth County veterans. Lawrence Joel… Winston-Salem’s first and only Medal of Honor winner.
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