MEMORIAM TO TSGT RUSSELL LEROY LAWSON
September 2, 1924 - March 7, 1986
©Gail Lawson Clough 2011 - Not to be copied or reproduced without permission
This Memoriam is in honor of TSGT Russell Leroy Lawson (2 September 1924 (VJ Day)- 7 March 1986). TSGT Lawson served his country with dignity, heroism and excellence. He began his career in the United States Air Force as a draftee during WWII. Among his many achievements, he flew 31 missions on Air Crew 805 in the 330 Bomb Squadron (part of the original 458th Bombardment Squadron). After serving on active duty in WWII, he then went on to serve in the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War and Cambodia. Men like my father, Russell L. Lawson, are directly responsible for the cherished freedoms we take for granted and for preserving the American Way. He was drafted into the army in 1943. For the first ten years, he flew; for the last ten years, he had top secret ground jobs. He started out as a tail gunner, and could assemble and disassemble his rifle blindfolded. He flew in B-29s where his position was flight radio operator. Some of the flights lasted 18-hours in bitter cold with nothing to eat in an unpressurized cabin. The men wore Eskimo suits to protect them from the cold. Most of RLL's jobs were highly classified, above top secret, and involved a level of precision and discipline unimagined by ordinary citizens. Many of his assignments were of an experimental nature, and all were highly confidential. He made many top-secret flights to the Antarctic and was a serious photographer with photos in the Smithsonian Museum. He retired in 1968 with an honorable discharge and the following personal awards and distinctions:
THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS – “Awarded to U.S. military personnel for heroism or extraordinary achievement that is clearly distinctive involving operations during aerial flight that are not routine.” Charles Lindbergh was the first recipient; other notables awarded the DFC were the Wright brothers and Amelia Earhart. RLL earned his by bringing in a crippled aircraft and saving his crew.
AIR MEDAL WITH THREE BRONZE OAK LEAVES –Awarded for heroic actions or meritorious service while participating in aerial flight. RLL qualified for this citation on four different occasions.
DISTINGUISHED UNIT CITATION WITH BRONZE OAK CLUSTER – Awarded “for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after Dec. 7, 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. The degree of heroism required is the same that which would warrant award of the Distinguished Service Cross to an individual.” http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/afmedals/blpuc.htm
AIR FORCE GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL – Awarded for three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service” without any reprimands or disciplinary actions of any kind. Wikipedia. RLL received this citation five times, which is signified by the bronze rope with five braided knots.
AMERICAN CAMPAIGN MEDAL – Awarded for service against the Axis powers within the American theatre of operations (one year within the USA; 30 consecutive days outside the USA; or 60 non-consecutive days outside the USA).
ASIATIC-PACIFIC CAMPAIGN MEDAL WITH TWO BRONZE STARS – Awarded for service in the Asiatic and Pacific Theatre from 7 December 1941 to 2 March 1946.
WWII VICTORY MEDAL – Awarded for military service from 7 December 1941 and 31 December 1946.
ARMY OF OCCUPATION MEDAL WITH GOLD C-54 – Awarded for service during the Berlin Airlift from 26 June 1948 and 30 September 1949.
MEDAL FOR HUMANE ACTION – Again for the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949.
NATIONAL DEFENSE SERVICE MEDAL – Awarded to any military personnel who served honorably in a time of national emergency.
LONGEVITY SERVICE AWARD WITH THREE BRONZE OAK CLUSTERS – Awarded for completing four years of active duty. The three bronze oak clusters are for additional awards.
SMALL ARMS EXPERT MARKSMANSHIP MEDAL – Awarded to military personnel who have passed a weapons qualification course with an above-average score.
TSGT Lawson was always ahead of his time and went on to make further contributions in civilian life after he retired. He operated a powerful radio station with a California Kilowatt of power and was occasionally called upon to further serve his country as a ham radio operator after his retirement. His many years of unselfish service led to some severe health problems, for he put duty and country ahead of all else. In the Spring of 1976, RLL found out he had something called, “arterial sclerosis,” or hardening of the arteries, which was a newly-discovered disease. He had had severe pains in his legs, and couldn’t walk more than a block. After running dye through his arteries (an excruciatingly painful test), the doctors discovered he had no circulation from the knees down, and was in danger of losing his legs. On July 23, 1976, he had his first arterial bypass, which was an experimental procedure at the time. The surgery was performed by Dr. Barbara Kinder of Yale-New Haven Hospital and she saved Mr. Lawson’s life. During the bypass surgery, Dr. Kinder discovered that Mr. Lawson had a deadly aneurysm in his aorta near his heart, which would have killed him in a matter of weeks without the surgery, which was brand new at the time. RLL was in intensive care for five days. Before he went into the hospital, he explained how the surgery would be performed. The body is chilled down to the lowest degree possible without causing death. Then, all the internal organs that lie over the aorta are removed and put in pans around the patient so that the damaged aorta can be removed and surgically replaced with an artificial one. It sounded terrifying.
The operation saved his life, but Mr. Lawson had drastic side effects after the surgery and was never normal again. Plus, the operation only lasted three years. Although it had accordion folds like a vacuum cleaner hose, the artificial aorta wasn’t flexible enough. The tube got clogged and twisted, cutting off the circulation in his legs. Three years later, the entire operation had to be performed again and the defective tube replaced. This time, the surgery was done at the Newington Veteran’s hospital, and it nearly killed Mr. Lawson. In fact, RLL had his NDE (Near Death Experience) during this operation. He could not speak of the experience for several months, but then was given some books to read which helped him assimilate the experience. On 10 January 1980, he was interviewed by a research assistant for Dr. Kenneth Ring of the University of Connecticut and contributed to the first wave of NDE research. Here is the transcript of the interview.
TRANSCRIPT 10 JANUARY 1980
Russell Leroy NDE (Near-Death Experience) of September 1979
Interview Conducted by a Research Assistant for Professor Kenneth Ring
QUESTION: Your name?
ANSWER: Russell Leroy Lawson.
QUESTION: Your age:
QUESTION: Were you born in this country:
QUESTION: You are currently retired. What was your occupation prior to your retirement?
ANSWER: I retired from the United States Air Force in 1967. For the first ten years of my military career I flew. And for the last ten years, I did ground jobs. After I retired from the Air Force I went to work for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in their standards lab doing research. And then in 1971, I went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture administering the Food Stamp program in Connecticut. I was the assistant to the Officer in Charge, and I did that work for five years before I was retired for disability.
QUESTION: How far did you go in school?
ANSWER: 12 years, but I took many college-level courses in my U.S. Air Force training.
QUESTION: Do you have any religious preference?
QUESTION: And your marital status?
ANSWER: I am married.
QUESTION: OK, Mr. Lawson, could you tell me what happened to you previously, and when it happened, and everything else that you may have experienced at the time.
ANSWER: How much time do you have? I had two operations, one in 1976 at the VA Hospital in West Haven, Connecticut, where they gave me a new aorta. I had an aneurysm, in fact, which they found out when they went to operate on me. It must have been very close to my heart. Anyway, they gave me a new aorta from my heart down across both groins. In 1976. And like I explained to you before, when you have these operations, you are out of it. You don't know anything. You are unconscious. You don't know what is going on, you don't know anything. Was I surprised? In that operation, I had no experiences whatsoever. But, in September of 1979, three years later, they found out that the aorta I had been given in 1976 was stopped up. Plugged. Both sides. So, they operated on me again in the VA Hospital in Newington, Connecticut, to give me a second replacement aorta.
During this operation, it was just entirely different. You couldn't believe there could be such a difference in the two operations. There was. During this second operation - at some point in time, I don't remember when - I passed on into the next world. Like I say, I find it very difficult to talk about. All of a sudden -- and time has no meaning in this experience -- I think it is possible the experience may have lasted something like two breaths. During this operation, all of a sudden, I found myself going from this earth. I fully believe the experience I had was different than anyone else every had. I am different than anybody else. ANYBODY ELSE! I find it very difficult to speak about.
I felt myself going. I was hanging on. Hanging on! Until I felt I was the very last breath of anything on this earth. ANYTHING. The very last breath of anything on this earth. And then all of a sudden -- You remember I told you that I have always done very exacting work. You know the only place you can get the correct time around here is from WWV, the National Bureau of Standards, or WTIC radio. I spent my life doing things that required the utmost accuracy. Using the beryllium clock at the National Bureau of Standards and all that sort of thing. Every hour on the hour WTIC has a recording that goes off automatically giving the correct time. It uses the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, dit, dit, dit, dah. That time is from the National Bureau of Standards and is accurate. Very accurate. The only place you can get the accurate time. For most people. Anyway, I felt myself slipping away. I was hanging on. Like nothing ever before. I was the very last breath. I was the very last breath of something. I didn't know what. All of a sudden, I heard, dit, dit, dit, dah. IT JUST EXPLODED IN MY HEAD.... And then all of a sudden I saw myself in the other world. I was in the other world. I was looking back at me in this world. Standing there. We were both standing. Fully clothed. I didn't see anything else.
QUESTION: You were looking back from the other side?
ANSWER: Yes. There were two of me. I was looking back at me in this world. We were both happy. In the other world, I didn't see anything. I do not know if I was meant to see anything. BUT IT WAS A GLORIOUS FEELING. And I have thought a lot about it since, and I have come to the realization that (pause) it is hard to explain. I came to the realization that everything on this earth is in a process of evolving. The Big Band created the Earth. I have always thought about that. There is something very special about it. I can't describe it. I WAS THE VERY LAST BREATH, and it dawned on me that I am part of this process of evolution. ME! I am the very last breath of something. I don't know what. It was not explained to me. It wasn't meant to be explained, but the more I think about it, and I think about it every day, I have ten thousand thoughts running through my mind all the time. Millions of thoughts. While I am talking to you about the experience I had I am thinking of something else. I think about it all the time. It is something special. Unique!
It is something special about me. There is something special about me. I don't know what it is. I didn't have any visions or anything like that. I told the Doctor afterwards, Dr. Donaldson, who is a teacher at the University -- I told him about my experience. He laughed it off and sneered, and said, "Oh well, you were on some pretty strong drugs."
What happened to me had nothing whatsoever to do with drugs. It was just as clear to me. NOTHING EVER COULD HAVE BEEN MORE CLEAR. Nothing!! That is all I remember. But the more I think about the experience, the more it becomes clear to me -- what happened to me. I know I died on the table. One of the doctors told my wife, "Your husband is a very strong man." Little did he know!
QUESTION: Did any of the doctors ever tell you that in fact you had died and your heart stopped, and you had come close to dying?
ANSWER: No. Well, yes and no. I told Dr. Donaldson what had happened. Just briefly. And like I said, he explained that I was on some powerful drugs. He never offered any explanation or anything. And that is all he said. And at that moment, I thought to myself that he was an ignorant human being. He is a great surgeon. For the first time in 25 years, I can walk and I don't have any pain in my legs or feet. So, the guy is a good surgeon. One of the best. But he leaves a lot to be desired as a human being. All doctors are like that. They are a breed of their own.
Lately, I have been seeing Dr. Goodspeed out at the VA Hospital. He is an understanding person. He is an MD at the hospital and at the University. They have some lousy doctors in that place out there. I told Dr. Goodspeed about my experience. I mentioned the experience to both Doctors. I never talked to them like I am talking to you. They showed no interest. In fact, it seemed to me that it was a subject they preferred to avoid. I talk to my wife about it. I told Dr. Goodspeed about it. He laughed it off. He said, "It happens."
QUESTION: Mr. Lawson, can you tell me what kind of feelings you had at the time this was happening?
ANSWER: I just did.
QUESTION: Would you describe it as a worried feeling?
ANSWER: In the other world?
QUESTION: Do you remember any other unusual noises or sounds?
ANSWER: I just told you I heard the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony at the moment I stepped over the line into the next world. Dit, dit, dit, dah. That was the only sound I heard.
QUESTION: At any time did you feel like you were moving or traveling?
ANSWER: No. Now wait a minute. Let me take that back. It is hard to explain, you know. I have the circulation problem. Doctors always ask you, "How far can you walk?" I could write a book about walking. Well, the same thing holds true with your question about moving. I guess I would have to say that my spirit was moving. I felt myself going. I was holding on to the last breath. You cannot describe that feeling. OF ANYTHING ON THIS EARTH. THE VERY LAST BREATH. Of anything. And I felt myself going. Not literally. But going. I know no words to describe it. An then, like I say, my head just 4exploded. I listened to radios all my adult life. Professionally. Since 1943. I never heard a sound like that in my life. It is impossible to describe sufficiently. It was the clearest thing I ever heard. Dit, dit, dit, dah! And then I was in the other world. Looking back at me in this one.
QUESTION: Could you tell me a little more about looking back at yourself? And did you see yourself on the operating table?
ANSWER: No. I was standing. In this world and in the next one. I was standing in this world and I was standing in the next one. Fully dressed in casual trousers and shirt. I did not see anything around me. In the next world there was a glow. Everything was an orange glow. Not really that color. I can't describe the color. And as I looked back at me on this side, nothing could have been more clear. Me looking at myself. Looking back at myself. There I stood. Erect. Happy.
QUESTION: Then you did not see the doctors or nurses or anything?
ANSWER: No. This had to be a spiritual feeling.
QUESTION: Did you encounter any other people?
ANSWER: No. I saw nothing.
QUESTION: Did you see any scenes from your life pass before your eyes?
QUESTION: When you were in the other world, were you aware of your physical body? Not the one in this world, but the one in the other world?
ANSWER: No. Pause. Wait. Let me think. This happened to me in September. Three or four months ago. I think about it constantly, and things keep coming back to me. I cannot say I was cognizant of my body in the next world. I was and I wasn't. It was not important. That is why I say I got no message. I saw no visions. I was just there.
QUESTION: Is there anything in the next world that you couldn't do with your physical body?
QUESTION: You said you had no perception of time. Did you have any perception of space of weight?
ANSWER: I have to think about that. There was no perception of time whatsoever. I felt myself going. I was hanging on. Till the end. I don't mean the end of me. I mean the end of everything. I felt myself hanging on. With every ounce. Of anything on earth. I was the last. Of what I don't know. I wish to hell I did.
That's what leads me to believe -- my wife was born and raised Catholic. All her life. She has faith. All my children are Catholic. I watched, "All in the Family, the other night. The old meathead was telling Archie he was an agnostic. Up until this last operation, I always figured there was a God. There has to be, you know. I have always questioned it. One of the best friends I have is a Doctor/Engineer of Chemistry. He is an Indian (a Sikh). They have different beliefs. I was asking my wife - Who is God? Talking to my friend who is probably the most intelligent person I ever knew - have you heard of the University of Appleton in Wisconsin? The most famous University in the world for inorganic chemistry. My friend is about seventh in the chain of command there now. The Hindu people believe anything can be a God. A leaf. A tree. A dog. Anything. Different people have different ideas about God. Different beliefs. Now I have thought a lot about this before I say it. I know now. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I KNOW! Maybe that is why there is something so special about it. I do not know. There is no God. Not the way we vision it. The big bang. It started the earth. We are all in a process of evolution.
QUESTION: When you passed over into this other world thing - whey you were trying - you say there was no God?
ANSWER: It is not my belief. I know it. I spent most of my adult life being sure.
QUESTION: (Garbled - something about the other world - )
ANSWER: I don't know. I have no idea. It will be better than this one. The realization came to me - I don't know - maybe a month ago. Because of this process I went through the realization, it dawned on me -- no one can appreciate it -- we are all a process of evolution. There are all kinds of animal life on this Earth. And there will be all kinds of animal life in the next one. Who could be so narrow minded as to believe that there is not life on other planets. There has to be. The universe is constantly expanding, scientists have studied it for years. I think most scientists agree the universe is expanding all the time. Life on it is expanding all the time. Everything that is in your body is out there in the universe. And in the ground. We are all a part of it. We are all part of the universe.
QUESTION: Did you have any of these thoughts before the experience?
ANSWER: No. No. Before the experience, I wondered all my life. Like I say, I have been around people - Catholics - I always said that if I ever professed to any religion, it would be Catholicism because I think they are most honest about their religion. A lot of people of different religions are hypocritical. 99% of them, I would say.
QUESTION: Would you say that you experienced some kind of unity with everything in the universe?
ANSWER: I wouldn't put it exactly that way. What happened to me didn't really dawn on me at the time it happened. I think about this experience I had. What was happening. I think of it constantly. By constantly, I mean every day. My brain goes continually. Always has. I am a Virgo. That doesn't mean anything to a lot of people. But it means to me now, that I am part of the universe.
QUESTION: When you had your experience, did you feel that you were dying?
QUESTION: When you found yourself in this other world, did you want to come back to life?
ANSWER: No. I had no feelings either way. I had no control over the situation. Like I was telling you, I cannot explain it. When this process started -- and I don't know when it started -- I felt myself going. And there was something special about it. I was the last one. The last breath. THE LAST ONE. The last of something. I don't know what.
QUESTION: Can you describe your feelings when you found yourself alive? When you regained consciousness and found out that you were still alive?
ANSWER: I didn't feel one way or the other. I didn't think about it. I don't know when I remembered it. I guess I remembered it the first day I gained consciousness. I was in intensive care by then. I didn't think much about it at the time. Well, I was sore. I hurt. All drugged up. I couldn't think of anything. One important point I would like to make. During the last ope4ration in 1976 when I had the same operation, I didn't know anything. You are unconscious when they operate on you. You don't know anything, see anything. It is just a blank. You don't feel anything. This operation was quite different.
QUESTION: Subjectively, would you say that you are more or less afraid of death after this experience than you were before?
ANSWER: Less. But I want to qualify that. I have never been afraid of death. Death is part of evolution. Everything has to die. Like I say everything comes out of the ground and everything must go back into the ground, as they say, or into the air. Atmosphere. Universe. Stratosphere. Ionosphere. Whatever you choose to call it. It is all part of the universe. And I am part of it. I was telling my wife the other night that I should write all this down. But it comes to me herky jerky. I know now. I don't know how I know. BUT I KNOW. And I cannot explain it to you. I have never lied. Never in my life have I even exaggerated. When I say something, I mean it. I know it.
QUESTION: OK, I am going to turn this thing off.
ANSWER: No, wait. There is something more I need to say. I am different than other people. Than anyone you ever knew. When I say something I mean it. I don't say things I don't mean. And when I tell you I know, then I am sure. Sure as anything in the universe. I KNOW. Don't ask me how I know. I just know. It sounds crazy to say, but I feel like I am something special. There is something special about me. In this process of evolution. I have no idea what it is. Nor will I have an idea when I get in the next world. I was telling my wife, I know now my life on this Earth -- My life on this Earth is like one breath. The length of time I am on this Earth is like one lousy breath in the universe.
QUESTION: Mr. Lawson, would you say that the experience you had -- was it frightening to you?
ANSWER: No. It was very revealing. Very real. I explained to you that I spent my life doing exacting type work. Experimental. Making absolutely sure. As sure as we can possibly be. The most accurate thing on Earth is the clock at the National Bureau of Standards. Every couple of years, they have to reset that clock ahead a second. In relation to the universe. Most of the work I did all my life -- new work for the government -- new methods -- using tools and equipment that had been calibrated by the National Bureau of Standards -- I am trying to explain -- maybe that has something to do with the experience and feelings I had. When I stepped over the line. Dit, Dit, Dit, Dah! That is the most accurate thing on Earth. And what I am telling you is just as accurate. I may sound upset, but this has nothing to do with my thinking apparatus.
AT THIS POINT, THE TAPE RAN OUT.
Attached are RLL's personal comments about the interview.
RUSS LAWSON, RETIRED USAF, HAM RADIO OPERATOR
RUSSELL AND CLARA LAWSON
July 5, 1950 - March 7, 1986