HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - One of this year’s Hall of Heroes inductees is a survivor in every sense of the word. He was seriously wounded in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan and lived to tell about it.
Now, he continues to work in the helicopter industry on Redstone Arsenal.
Every year during the Veterans Week celebration, the Madison County Heritage Commission inducts six new members into the Hall of Heroes- vets who have received awards for valor. SSG (Ret) David McLawhorn has a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart from a mission that nearly took his life.
McLawhorn is personable and warm. He’s quick to laugh and easy to talk to- a hard working family man.
“I’m a father of two and a husband. My wife teaches at Buckhorn. My children are three and five years old. Between work and kids, I don’t have much free time. I’m a member at Flint River Baptist Church and my faith is very important to me,” he said.
His back story will amaze you. He grew up in Richmond, VA and then lived in Dalton, GA. When he graduated from high school, he went to Auburn University and joined the military from there.
From 2005-2006, he was stationed in Iraq, working as a helicopter mechanic, doing maintenance on CH 47s. In November of 2008, he mobilized and got into Afghanistan in December. A month into his deployment, in January 2009, the CH 47 he was in was shot down. He was the flight engineer in the back.
“I remember every bit of that day. We were not really supposed to go back into this valley. It was a pretty bad area but everybody got weathered in. My helicopter and my crew were the only ones who could take the mission,” he explained.
They were resupplying troops who had been cut off for a few weeks. The soldiers were running out of food, ammo and fuel.
“We were bringing water and wood and fuel to an outpost in the Korengal Valley and our helicopter was struck with an RPG through the left main fuel tank. From there a fire ensued and we flew across the valley and crashed,” McLawhorn stated.
He was thrown from the helicopter.
“That’s how I got injured but it probably saved my life because the helicopter rolled after we crashed and where I was would have been crushed by the transmission area,” he added. “I broke my back in 27 places and broke about eight ribs, messed up from knee and ankle. I fractured a bunch of teeth. I had a lot of injuries from the accident.”
His actions after that, working through the pain and his injuries to get to safety with his fellow soldiers led him to receive several awards.
“We made it out of there. It was a huge team effort. I had the best crew that anybody could imagine,” he said.
McLawhorn started a long road to recovery and went through a medical retirement. Now, he works on Redstone Arsenal in the program management office for cargo helicopters.
“I work with PM Cargo. I still work with CH 47 helicopters, keeping them flying. I love those boys overseas and at home. We get to help them with hard to find parts and provide them logistics expertise. We get them stuff that they can’t get any other way to keep the helicopters flying,” he said. “I will do it until they won’t let me do it anymore. It’s a great job.”
His injuries are something he will deal with for the rest of his life.
“My back problems will never go away. I have a great pain management team here. Until I start losing function, I am going to keep managing pain. I have a huge support network at my church and my family. My wife has been awesome through all of this,” McLawhorn stated.
He says his induction into the Hall of Heroes is an honor, but added that he was just doing his job. He’s been through a lot and his attitude and work ethic speak volumes about his character.
“We did everything that our team needed us to do and they did everything that they needed to do. Everybody that I worked with in the military was just as much of a hero as I am,” he added.