A legacy left behind, a legacy endured

Area pays tribute to late Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton at dedication

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Broken tears streamed down Sherri Lawton's face as her fingers tightly held a shiny metal necklace emblazoned with the image of her late husband, Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton.

For Sherri, a former Hayden resident and widow to soldier Mark Lawton, who was killed in August 2003 while serving in operation Iraqi Freedom, moments like Monday -- an event dedicated to honoring her husband's legacy -- are steeped in equal parts joy and sadness.

"It's a little bit of both," she said. "It's always hard when it comes to talking about my husband. ... This was such an amazing thing. How do you even begin to thank all the people who made this happen? I think Mark would have been very happy today."

Members of the state, natnd Craig American Legion, along with members from Lawton's 244th Combat Engineer Battalion and the U.S. Army Reserve in Grand Jun--ction, paid tribute to the late soldier during a dedication ceremony Monday that renamed the Craig post headquarters, the Mark Evans-Anthony Lawton American Legion Post No. 62.

Lawton, a Hayden native and 1982 graduate of Moffat County High School, died from enemy gunfire while riding in a convoy north of As Suaydat, Iraq. Although it's been three years since his death, his memory is not lost to those closest to him.

Steve Alicea, of Arvada, remembers Lawton as a high school pal who couldn't be beaten in a foot race. He said the pair used to run the hallways at the high school, his buddy always leading the contests.

Lawton, a star athlete at MCHS, still holds many high school track records today, more than two decades later.

Alicea recited Monday a closing line he wrote in his friend's honor on a Web site designed to preserve the memories of perished soldiers, Fallen Heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"May God bless you my fleet-footed friend," Alicea said. "We will run the halls together someday again. Your forever cowboy buddy."

Sgt. Brian Soper, a Craig police officer, served with Lawton when he died. He recalled a brave soldier other members of the unit respected.

"He was a great guy," said Soper, who escorted Lawton's family to Monday's event. "I enjoyed working with him. Everyone liked him. We were all very sad to see him leave."

American Legion state commander Ralph Bozella described Lawton as a "true American hero." He said the fallen soldier leaves behind a thankful nation and a legacy of defending freedom.

"That's what he gave his life for -- to make us safer," Bozella said. "That is his legacy."

Bozella said the American Legion post, with its new name, has been a good community veteran services post. Now, he said, it will have that much more to live up to.

Also attending Monday's event was Scott Tipton, a candidate for the 110th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and representatives from Sens. Ken Salazar's and Wayne Allard's offices.

Bozella read a letter to the audience Monday from Gov. Bill Owens, who attended Lawton's funeral in 2003. In the letter, Owens said he has returned to the gravesite and keeps Lawton's wife and two children in his prayers.

The governor also said that the post renamed in Lawton's honor would be a "lasting tribute to a true American hero."

Sherri said her two sons, Dustin and Tanner, would hopefully remember Monday's event with pride. They were young when their father passed away, she said, and were robbed of the chance to get to know him.

"I think someday they'll remember it as a time people talked about their daddy," she said. "Right now, it's hard for them to understand what happened to Daddy, where Daddy is. I'm constantly talking to them about Daddy and who he was."

Sherri has relocated to Wasola, a small-community in southern Missouri. In closing Monday's event, American Legion officials handed her an American flag and a wooden case, another respect paid in a long list of tributes given to her husband.

She said Monday's event reinforces her belief that, when the boys get older, they'll have more than just her telling them about their father.

"I know there will be soldiers there to help me talk about him," she said.

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