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Marine Corps leads the way in Spirit of America awards

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

It will be a Semper Fi night at the Spirit of America Festival’s VIP awards ceremony.

Two of the three awards will go to U.S. Marines. And for the first time in 37 years, the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award will honor a father and son for heroism.

The H.J. Heimlich Humanitarian Award will recognize Marine Battery K in Huntsville for its longtime commitment to Toys for Tots and Young Marine programs. The Barrett Shelton Freedom Award will go to Barbara Kelly, Sally Smartt and Nell Standridge, three Decatur women who led the effort to renovate and enhance Delano Park and its rose garden.

The patriotism award, which the festival started giving out in 1971 to honor the most decorated soldier of World War II, goes to Maj. John D. Harrill III and his father, retired Lt. Col. John D. Harrill Jr.

The father earned the Bronze Star with valor in Vietnam as a captain coordinating tactical air, helicopter gunships and artillery in addition to re-supply and medical evacuation during Operation Cuu Long I. Later, during an invasion of Laos to assault the Ho Chi Minh Trail, he worked with separate rifle companies and provided leadership that saved the lives of many friendly forces.

The son earned the Silver Star with valor for actions during a major insurgent attack in Iraq in April 2004. Maj. Harrill led the forward command element into the enemy attack zone.

Despite constant enemy fire, he focused the combat power of six companies in eight separate locations over a seven-hour period.

Maj. Harrill personally wiped out enemy machine-gun and rocket-propelled-grenade posts. His superior tactical insight enabled the destruction of assaulting enemy forces.

“People like that are what make our nation great,” David Carney, VIP awards chairman, said of the father-son recipients. “Strong family and strong traditions.”

Humanitarian award

This is the first time in three years that the July 4 festival at Point Mallard will give the humanitarian award, named for the inventor of the procedure to relieve choking that has saved thousands of lives.

The award recipients, Marine Battery K and its inspector-instructor staff, have greatly impacted North Alabama through many years of service to the Toys for Tots and Young Marine programs. Each year they provide toys to more than 10,000 underprivileged children in more than 11 counties. The Young Marine Program has paired more than 100 Marines with North Alabama youths in a mentoring role.

Freedom award

Though not Marines, Kelly, Smart and Standridge operated with military precision in building an army of support to improve Delano Park. Their initial vision was to bring back the rose garden, but their commitment to install nothing short of excellence encouraged the community to get behind bigger dreams of enhancing the entire park.

The park has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in private and public donations, allowing for the new rose garden, renovations to stone structures, a new water play area, a paved history trail (still in progress) and tree plantings. A new playground that will accommodate children with disabilities is in the fundraising stages.

“It’s great to give awards for people’s past accomplishments, but it’s an extra thrill to honor somebody doing good stuff today,” Carney said of the three women.

“They’re encouraging others to be involved.”

And the winners are . . .

  • The Audie Murphy Patriotism Award goes to a Marine father, retired Lt. Col. John D. Harrill Jr., who was decorated in the Vietnam War, and his son, Maj. John D. Harrill III, a Silver Star recipient in the Iraq War.

  • The H.J. Heimlich Humanitarian Award goes to Marine Battery K for its Toys for Tots and Young Marine programs.

  • The Barrett Shelton Freedom Award goes to Barbara Kelly, Sally Smartt and Nell Standridge, three Decatur women who led the effort to renovate and enhance Delano Park.

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