For many years in September, the family of U.S. Army Sgt. Herbert L. Rawls Jr., paid homage to their fallen Korean War soldier by hanging an American Flag in the backyard on a clothes line. It wasn't just an ordinary flag; it was the very same flag that was draped over Rawls' coffin after he was killed in action during the Korean War on Sept. 3, 1950.
But it has been many years since the family last participated in the once heartfelt ritual.
It wasn't a coincidence on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, when the Rawls Family once again intensely observed that same flag flapping back and forth in a gentle breeze, but this time, Old Glory was much higher in the sky.
Rawls' memorial flag was hoisted at the Veterans Memorial on the Tarboro Town Common by the Tarboro High School JROTC during the 121st Memorial Flag-Raising Service. In remembrance of their tradition, September was specifically chosen by Rawls' family for the Golden K Kiwanis-sponsored monthly event.
"It was an annual reminder for our family of the loss of Herbert and the pain my grandparents endured with the loss of a son," said Connie Hunt, Rawls' niece who made remarks during the ceremony. "As I see my grandmother's signature on his burial certificate and other documents surrounding his death during my research, it saddens me to even imagine what she and the family must have gone through. But the annual hanging of Herbert's flag also created conversations about his love for his country, his strong character and stories of what a wonderful man he was."
As a family, the Rawls did more than their share of handling their patriotic duties. Six out of seven of Rawls' siblings, including his sister, served in the military during World War II. Going beyond the call of duty, Rawls and his brother, James Rawls, enlisted twice.
During the midst of the ferocious fighting of World War II, Herbert Rawls' first stint in the Army began in 1944. He escaped without injuries and was discharged in April 1946. Three years later, on the brink of the Korean War, Rawls re-enlisted in the Army and on July 25, 1950, the United States entered the war.
Unfortunately, this time, Rawls didn't escape. He was killed in South Korea while attempting a heroic act to save others. He was 27 years old.
A book titled "Combat Actions in Korea" written by Russell Gugeler details the facts behind Rawls' death.
An excerpt from the book states, "Sgt. Herbert L. Rawls, Jr., the wire team chief, saw the North Koreans at the time Sergeant Parker challenged them. Realizing there would be trouble, he ran first to one of the native houses by the road to awaken several men from his section that were sleeping there, then to the switchboard dugout to warn those men. Near the edge of the switchboard hole, Sgt. Pursley was kneeling on the ground splicing a wire. Just as Rawls got there an enemy appeared and killed both men with a burp gun."
Because of his heroic actions, Rawls was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service, Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Back at home, Rawls' parents, Mamie and Herbert Rawls Sr., were heartbroken by the loss. It was likely hard on his siblings, also. Before his death five stars on the family home window represented five of the siblings serving in the military. A sixth star, which would have represented James Rawls who was apparently the last one to enlist, was never painted. James Rawls is the only living brother today. His siblings include James Robert Rawls, Earl Rawls, Johnnie Rawls, Woodrow Rawls and Sara Rawls. Also Willie Rawls, who did not serve.
Rawls was one of 18 casualties from Edgecombe County who died in the Korean War.