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 our country.
Joel is the only native of Winston-Salem who has been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat award and was the first African-American to receive the award since the Spanish-American War.
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. 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, in part: “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.”
Joel was born in Winston-Salem on February 22, 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.
He died in Winston-Salem on February 4, 1984 of complications from diabetes. He is buried in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater.