Something good is happening Friday, one day before Veterans Day — the long-vacant Spring Garden School at 12th and Ogden Streets is getting a new name and a new purpose.
Ground was broken in September of last year for a $13.7 million project, a partnership between the Philadelphia Housing Authority and HELP USA, a national housing and homeless services organization. The partnership resulted in 37 units of low-cost housing for veterans and people over 55 to be dedicated Friday.
The development is being named for Lural Lee Blevins 3d, a heroic forward observer and one of the Edison 64, representing the number of young men from Edison High School killed in Vietnam – the greatest toll suffered by any American high school.
Naming the project for Blevins is appropriate, but not enough, say the men who served with Blevins, who say his heroics saved the lives of other American soldiers. Blevins' former commanding officer, Lt. Charles Newhall, submitted his name for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, after Blevins, a Spec/ 4 with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, was killed on Aug. 16, 1968.
Blevins' unit was taking murderous fire on an exposed hillside. While his platoon pulled back, Blevins returned enemy fire until he was struck in the head and killed. "Covering the retreat of the platoon was heroic," said Newhall. Without Blevins the 20 to 30 casualties would have doubled, he told me.
The nominating papers for the medal were lost, a casualty of the fog of war. After his separation from the military, Newhall was plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder and guilt that he didn't carry through the process for his dead comrade.
That changed a couple of years back when several of Blevins' comrades were reconnected through Darryrl Johnson, a retired Edison High teacher who is the historian for the Edison 64. I wrote about their efforts last March.
Since that time the housing project came up and Blevins' name was suggested and then accepted. His buddies were happy for the recognition, but their goal remains the Medal of Honor.
As I reported back in July, Blevins' comrades approached U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans for his support because he represents Germantown, where Blevins lived after graduating from Edison.
In October, the Blevins team submitted a 60-page Recommendation to Award package to Evans' office, complete with notarized witness statements and other documentation, Johnson told me.
"We will be submitting a completed package with a cover letter from the congressman to the Secretary of the Army," I was told by Evans' spokeswoman, Becca Brukman.
She cautioned that the process can be long.
One of the speakers at Friday's dedication is U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who told me, "I will do everything in my power to get it done." He already has spoken to other members of the Armed Services Committee on which he serves.
Aug. 16 will be the 50th anniversary of when Blevins laid down his life for his country and his comrades.