Memorial Day: Seymour man died while helping fellow corpsman in Vietnam


On the night of April 11, 1967, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Dean “Billy” Laraway was participating on a combined U.S. Marine and Republic of Vietnam Popular Forces patrol in Cau Hai Hamlet, Phu Loc District.

The main body of the patrol became separated from the point, which included the patrol leader.

As the point came under intense enemy fire, the 23-year-old Seymour man quickly moved the main body to assist them.

When they were taken under heavy fire at close range by an unknown number of Viet Cong from an ambush position, he quickly placed his M-60 machine gun in action and took the enemy under fire to cover the deployment of the other members of the patrol.

The medical corpsman fell severely wounded in the initial burst of enemy fire. Disregarding the intense enemy fire, Laraway ran from his relatively sheltered position and carried the wounded corpsman to a less exposed position.

He then returned to his machine gun and again delivered heavy fire on the enemy, only to have a deadly barrage of hand grenades hurled at his position by the Viet Cong.

He again raced to the aid of the wounded corpsman and shielded him from the grenades with his own body. He seized two of the incoming grenades and hurled them back at the enemy and kicked others from their position before they detonated.

Oblivious of the continuing enemy fire and grenades, Laraway again moved to his machine gun in a position between the wounded and the enemy.

While attempting to place his machine gun in action, he fell fatally wounded from an exploding enemy grenade.

The Navy Cross — the Navy’s second-highest medal — was posthumously accepted by Laraway’s daughter, Penny, who was 6 at the time, during a ceremony in the council chambers at Seymour City Hall.

“By his outstanding courage, valiant devotion to duty and selfless efforts on behalf of his wounded comrade, Lance Cpl. Laraway upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country,” a citation reads.

At the time of his death, Laraway was serving as a rifleman with Combined Action Company H, Sub Unit Number 4 of Headquarters Battalion, Third Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam.

His sister, Donna Smith, who now lives in Bradenton, Florida, still remembers the day she and her family learned of her oldest brother’s death. At the time, she was living with her father, William Albert Laraway, in El Paso, Texas.

“You always hear the stories of the dreaded black car that pulls up, and I remember Daddy answering the door, and Daddy took it really hard. He really did,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t eat because he was so torn up about it.”

But by the same token, William Albert was proud of his son for his service as were other relatives, Smith said.

Their father had served in the military along with a few other family members.

“Billy loved life … and he thought going into the military was going to be beneficial because he wanted to take care of his family,” Smith said of her brother, who was a father of four. “We were proud of him, very proud.”

Laraway was born June 26, 1943, and grew up and later attended school in Seymour.

“He was a typical 1950s teenager,” Smith said. “Our grandparents lived at 802 S. Lynn St., and Pappy had a garage back there, and (Billy) and my other brother, Pat, they would all get together with (John) Mellencamp and just sit out there and just enjoy life.”

Laraway was working in Seymour before he joined the Marine Corps on Jan. 20, 1966, and was shipped out to Vietnam.

His daughter, Penny Hamilton, who now lives in Muncie, said she was only 5 when he died in service to the country.

“The only memory I really have of my dad is sitting in his lap watching Sammy Terry and eating pickled bologna and crackers,” she said.

While she doesn’t remember much else about him, family members have shared stories.

“My aunt says I’m just like him,” Hamilton said, laughing. “Personality, he’s kind and caring and he would give anybody the shirt off of his back.”

Those compliments mean a lot to her.

“It does make me feel good. I’m proud to be like him,” she said. “(His military service) makes me very proud, but I wish I had my dad. He was a hero.”

About 40 years after Laraway’s death, the family learned the name of the man who stayed with him when he died, Buddy Grover, who lives in Oregon.

“To be able to talk to Buddy and knowing that Billy was not alone, Buddy held him until he passed, to me, that gave me some closure,” Smith said.

Proud is among the words that come to mind when Smith thinks of her brother.

“He was selfless. He really was,” she said. “He felt our pain. … He was sensitive to somebody else’s pain.”

Laraway also was awarded the Purple Heart medal, which is presented to service members who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action while serving in the U.S. military. More than 1.8 million of the medals have been presented to service members since the award was created in 1782, and it’s the oldest military award still presented to American service members, according to

Each Memorial Day, Hamilton said she visits the graves of her grandparents and father, who is buried at Garland Brook Cemetery in Columbus.

“When I go to my dad’s, I put a penny in his vase and talk to him just like he was right there with me,” she said. “My name’s Penny. There’s a penny from his Penny.”

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