“You have directions?” my father asked as we entered Blair Memorial Park in Bellwood.
I assured him I had coordinates to the Medal of Honor recipient who rests in the rolling hills of the memorial park. I stopped a short distance from the coordinates as we approached the location. We arrived at the spot and discovered the coordinates were off. Thankfully, the veteran gravesites were marked with flag holders and the two of us spread out, pausing at each marked grave until we at last found the grave we sought.
I called to my father I had found the grave. I stood in quietly as he walked over to join me. We stood in silence at the grave of Robert Laws as we remembered the man who received the Medal of Honor for his bravery during World War Two.
Robert Earl Laws was born in Altoona on January 18,1921 to Archie and Myrtle Laws. He joined the US Army in 1942 and by January 12, 1945 was a Staff Sergeant in Company G, 169 Infantry Regiment, 43 Infantry Division. On that day, while the unit was fighting the Japanese Army in Pangasinan, Luzon in the Philippines, Laws would display bravery that would be honored with the Medal of Honor.
While attacking the fortified Japanese position, Laws, with the cover fire of his unit, crossed seventy yards to single-handedly destroy it by tossing grenades at it. During his attack, Laws was wounded by an enemy grenade. Despite his wounds, Laws continued to lead the assault on enemy rifle positions. During this attack, Laws was charged by three Japanese soldiers, two of which he shot as they rushed towards him. The third man reached Laws and the two fought in hand to hand combat with Laws emerging the victor.
For these actions, Laws received the Medal of Honor on September 10, 1945. The citation on his Medal reads: “He led the assault squad when Company G attacked enemy hill positions. The enemy force, estimated to be a reinforced infantry company, was well supplied with machine guns, ammunition, grenades, and blocks of TNT and could be attacked only across a narrow ridge 70 yards long. At the end of this ridge an enemy pillbox and rifle positions were set in rising ground. Covered by his squad, S/Sgt Laws traversed the hogback through vicious enemy fire until close to the pillbox, where he hurled grenades at the fortification. Enemy grenades wounded him, but he persisted in his assault until 1 of his missiles found its mark and knocked out the pillbox. With more grenades, passed to him by members of his squad who had joined him, he led the attack on the entrenched riflemen. In the advance up the hill, he suffered additional wounds in both arms and legs, about the body and in the head, as grenades and TNT charges exploded near him. Three Japs [Japanese] rushed him with fixed bayonets, and he emptied the magazine of his machine pistol at them, killing 2. He closed in hand-to-hand combat with the third, seizing the Jap’s [Japanese’s] rifle as he met the onslaught. The 2 fell to the ground and rolled some 50 or 60 feet down a bank. When the dust cleared the Jap [Japanese] lay dead and the valiant American was climbing up the hill with a large gash across the head. He was given first aid and evacuated from the area while his squad completed the destruction of the enemy position. S/Sgt. Laws’ heroic actions provided great inspiration to his comrades, and his courageous determination, in the face of formidable odds and while suffering from multiple wounds, enabled them to secure an important objective with minimum casualties.”
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Laws would also receive the Purple Heart for his wounds.
Laws was honorably discharged from the army and returned to central Pennsylvania where he went to work as a sheet metal worker for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1950, Laws and Harry Harr, Jr, would be involved in the ground-breaking ceremony of the James Van Zandt Veterans Hospital in Altoona. Note: More about Medal of Honor recipient Harry Harr can be found here: Harry Harr.
In 1952, Laws participated in the unveiling of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s World War Two Memorial at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. He was one of 54,035 employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad who served in World War Two, of which 1,307 died during it. As a part of the unveiling of the statue, Laws pulled the tape that unveiled the statue.
Laws passed on January 1, 1990 at the age of sixty-eight and was buried in the Blair Memorial Park in Bellwood.
We finished paying our respects for his bravery he displayed as he faced enemy fire before leaving him to rest on the hillside of Blair Memorial Park.