Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Georgia Air National Guardsman receives first Ga. NG Medal for Valor

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Left: Lt. Col. Cleveland J. Perkins, commander of the 116th Military Airlift Group, presents Staff Sgt. Leroy Coxwell witht he Georgia Medal of Valor.
Right: The Georgia Medal of Valor designed in 1958 by Col. William Robinette. Georgia National Guard Archives.

On Oct. 26, 1966, Georgia awarded its first Medal for Valor to Staff Sgt. Leroy Coxwell of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Support Squadron based at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta.[1] Coxwell received the award for life saving actions in rescuing three explorer scouts who were trapped in Howard’s Water Fall, a cave in Trenton, Ga. Coxwell volunteered to enter the cave despite the presence of poisonous gas which had already killed the scoutmaster and incapacitated two rescuers. 

The scouts were hiking in the cave April 17, 1966 when a carbide lamp exploded igniting gasoline vapors and filling the cave with carbon monoxide.[2] With total disregard for his own safety, Coxwell repeatedly entered the cave at night to locate the boys and guide them to safety.

The Medal of Valor was authorized by the Georgia General Assembly in 1958 and was designed by Col. William Robinette, training officer for the Georgia Army National Guard. Robinette also designed the Georgia Meritorious Service Medal and National Guard Service Medal.[3]

Lieutenant Colonel Cleveland J. Perkins, commander of the 116th Military Airlift Group pinned the medal to Coxwell’s chest during a ceremony at Dobbins. Lieutenant Colonel William R. Hudson, 116th Air Transport Wing, praised Coxwell’s actions.

“The Georgia Air National Guard and all of its divisions are proud of Coxwell’s valor,” said Hudson. “When one volunteers to help his fellow man in distress, most especially if he is young, it is a most worthy tribute that can be accorded to an individual character.”[4]


Left: Col. William R. Robinette, director of training for the Ga. ARNG in 1957. Center: Col. William R. Hudson, commander, 116th MAG in 1968.
Right: Col. Cleveland J. Perkins as director of 116th Military Airlift Wing operations in 1968. Georgia National Guard Archives.

[1] Associated Press. “Sgt. Corwell (sic)of Air Guard Awarded Medal for Valor.” Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 26, 1966, 48.


[2] Ted Simmons. “Atlantan Saves 3 in Cave, Then Dies. Atlanta Constitution, April 18, 1966, 1.


[3] “Colorful New Decorations for Georgia Guardsmen.” The Georgia Guardsman, May, June 1958, 4.


[4] “Medal for Valor Awarded SGT Coxwell,” The Georgia Guardsman, January 1967, 13.

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