Media Archive

Milo pupils laud veterans back from Iraq

Article from Bangor Daily News, Saturday, November 06, 2004

By Diana Bowley
of the NEWS Staff

MILO - A Marine who received two Purple Hearts for injuries he suffered in Iraq joined other veterans Friday at a special assembly conducted by Milo elementary and middle school pupils. Cpl. Keith Dawson, 21, who was injured by shrapnel from roadside bombs on two separate occasions near and in Fallujah, listened intently as pupils and teachers sang and played patriotic songs during the annual event to honor veterans. Among the pupils was his brother-in-law, George Cowing, who is in the fourth grade.

"It felt great that they did that in honor of veterans," Dawson said after the morning assembly. He was joined by many parents and veterans, as well as his wife, Abigail (Cowing) Dawson, formerly of Milo, and Bill Knight of Bangor, the organizer of the trooper greeters at Bangor International Airport.

Dawson, who met with pupils in their classrooms after the assembly and taught them a few hand signs used by the Iraqi people, said he was first injured on March 18 while driving the last Humvee in a convoy.

He and five other Marines were injured when a roadside bomb exploded and heavily damaged their vehicle and another one in the convoy. The shrapnel grazed Dawson's cheek, causing it to bleed, but the injury was not life-threatening, so he continued with his battalion. After a three-hour wait for an explosive ordnance device group to assess the surrounding ground for other explosives, the convoy continued on, he said.

The former Parkman man was not so lucky a second time, when on Aug. 16 another roadside bomb exploded. Shrapnel flew through an open window into the Humvee and into the left side of Dawson's face. He was returned immediately to his base about 15 miles south of Baghdad for medical treatment, he said. Dawson still has a piece of shrapnel lodged beside his nose as a reminder.

Despite the dangers involved, Dawson, who is stationed in Camp Lejeune, N.C., figures it is his duty to help protect America and spread freedom. He recently completed a seven-month tour in the infantry in Iraq and will return to his home base on Nov. 15. He expects to remain there until September when his battalion will leave for another Middle East tour.

Reuniting with friends and family in Maine has been heartwarming for the young Marine. After enlisting in the military in May 2002, Dawson was sent to Okinawa for six months and then to Iraq.

"It's pretty rough," Dawson said of life in the war-torn country. He said the members of his battalion slept in tents surrounded by sandbags, but the heat was unbearable at times.

Patrolling the country on foot or in vehicles, Dawson said he had interaction with the local people, about half of whom appeared to relish the outside help. Some invited the Marines into their homes and fed them while talking to them through an interpreter, he recalled.

It was the other half of the population that Marines were wary of, he said. "In certain parts of the town, the natives gave us the dirty eye," Dawson said.

His battalion rounded up about $60,000 in donated school and medical supplies, gifts that were much appreciated by the children and adults alike, according to Dawson. Much of the support came from friends and family back home, he said. That support was very welcome, Dawson said, including the packages sent to him that contained homemade food. The ready-to-eat military meals were quickly discarded when a package from home arrived, he said.

That support for Dawson will continue today as the hero is the guest of honor during a parade and an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. at the local American Legion Post. The public is invited.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.