About Lawrence Joel

In February 1986, the Winston-Salem Board of Alderman voted to name the city’s new arena “Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum” in honor of Joel and all other Forsyth County veterans who died in service to their country.

BORN: February 22, 1928, Winston-Salem, NC

DIED: February 4, 1984, Winston-Salem, NC

BURIED: Arlington National Cemetery (MH) (46-15-1), Arlington, VA

Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum pays tribute to the only native of Winston-Salem who has been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat award.

Joel, an Army medic assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was recognized for having saved the lives of 13 fellow soldiers during a Viet Cong attack north of Saigon on November 8, 1965. Although twice wounded in the legs by enemy gunfire, Joel crawled across the battle area for more than 24 hours, administering aid to his comrades.

He was awarded the Silver Star and was the first living black American to receive the Medal of Honor medal since the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Joel, who died of complications from diabetes in 1984, was born in Winston-Salem in 1928. He was educated in Winston-Salem elementary and junior high schools and attended Atkins High School. He served for one year in the Merchant Marines and, in 1946, enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 18. He retired from military service in 1973.

Joel is buried in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater.

On March 9, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Joel with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony on the White House lawn.

His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp6c. Joel demonstrated indomitable courage, determination, and professional skill when a numerically superior and well-concealed Viet Cong element launched a vicious attack which wounded or killed nearly every man in the lead squad of the company. After treating the men wounded by the initial burst of gunfire, he bravely moved forward to assist others who were wounded while proceeding to their objective. While moving from man to man, he was struck in the right leg by machine gun fire.

Although painfully wounded his desire to aid his fellow soldiers transcended all personal feeling. He bandaged his own wound and self-administered morphine to deaden the pain enabling him to continue his dangerous undertaking. Through this period of time, he constantly shouted words of encouragement to all around him. Then, completely ignoring the warnings of others, and his pain, he continued his search for wounded, exposing himself to hostile fire; and, as bullets dug up the dirt around him, he held plasma bottles high while kneeling completely engrossed in his life saving mission. Then, after being struck a second time and with a bullet lodged in his thigh, he dragged himself over the battlefield and succeeded in treating 13 more men before his medical supplies ran out. Displaying resourcefulness, he saved the life of one man by placing a plastic bag over a severe chest wound to congeal the blood. As 1 of the platoons pursued the Viet Cong, an insurgent force in concealed positions opened fire on the platoon and wounded many more soldiers. With a new stock of medical supplies, Sp6c. Joel again shouted words of encouragement as he crawled through an intense hail of gunfire to the wounded men. After the 24 hour battle subsided and the Viet Cong dead numbered 410, snipers continued to harass the company.

Throughout the long battle, Sp6c. Joel never lost sight of his mission as a medical aidman and continued to comfort and treat the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered. His meticulous attention to duty saved a large number of lives and his unselfish, daring example under most adverse conditions was an inspiration to all. Sp6c. Joel’s profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.


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Today, the coliseum continues to honor Lawrence Joel and all Forsyth County, NC veterans who courageously gave their lives while in their country’s service through the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial. Each veteran is remembered with a permanent marker in either the East Promenade or the West Promenade.