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BETTER THAN HEARSAY - The Marine and the Hummingbirds

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 4/12/24 | 4/12/24

By Michael Ryan

WEST KILL - It is the essence of emotional contrast, envisioning Larry Dwon serving with the United States Marines in Quang Tin Province, Vietnam, and sitting in his flower garden in the hamlet of West Kill.

Dwon has been selected for the Greene County Memorial Veteran Award, to be presented Saturday, May 18, at Catskill Point, next to the historic Freightmasters Building, alongside the Hudson River.

“Larry was always a Marine, proud of his service to his country,” says his wife Chris. “He fulfilled his duty with courage, honor and dedication. His final battle was fought with valor - a true Marine.”

That portion of this story has him being drafted by the Army, opting instead to enlist in the Marine Corps, being deeply entwined in several operations within Quang Tin Province, the scene of much ferocious fighting.

Dwon, according to his combat records, was part of Operation Union II, a particularly deadly search and destroy mission in the Que Son Valley, carried out by the 5th Marine Regiment.

Official reports say 110 Americans gave their lives and 241 were wounded while 701 were reportedly killed from the People’s Army of Vietnam,  between May 26 and June 5, 1967.

It is both unimaginable and real, juxtaposing that imagery with Dwon, in later years, silently waiting for the arrival of hummingbirds Matilda and Rupert to the flower beds at his smalltown home in the mountains.

This portion of that story has him armed with nothing more than a camera, capturing sweet photographs of the flitting swift-wingers, even as he was engaged in hostilities with cancer that felled him in the autumn of 2005.

Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, Dwon, “never talked much about the war, even with our two sons,” says Chris, preferring to let his deeds for country, family and community do the speaking.

Highly decorated, he received a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, a Republic Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross) and Republic Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Action).

He was accorded the Vietnam Campaign Medal, Rifle Marksman ranking and the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon.

Larry and Chris crossed paths after he’d gotten a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Utah State University and was teaching adult evening photography classes, having returned to his New Jersey roots.

“My dad and I went to the class,” Chris recalls “Larry told me he went home and told his mom, that night, that he’d met the girl he was going to marry.”

True to his word, they exchanged vows on May 17, 1975, ultimately settling in West Kill, in the town of Lexington, where Chris still lives and where they delightfully began crossing flight paths with Matilda and Rupert.

In some ways it was beautifully difficult to tell Larry apart from Matilda and Rupert, the three of them seemingly perpetually in motion.

While the hummingbirds were whirring around, Dwon was extremely active in the local community as fire chief for the Lexington Fire Department and volunteer driver for the Lexington Rescue Squad.

He was one of the initial members of the Greene County Fire Investigation Team, also serving as its president, and was code enforcement officer for the town of Lexington, knowing the book inside and out.

Larry tilled the soil and planted the seeds for the Junior Firefighter program in Lexington, encouraging young people to join, the same youths now carrying the torch for the volunteer fire company and rescue squad.

Since his passing, the Lexington Fire Company, at his family’s request, established the “Mountaintop Emergency Services Award” in Chief Lawrence A. Dwon's memory.

The $500 award recognizes a graduating Hunter-Tannersville school senior who measures up as an active volunteer firefighter or emergency medical services (EMT) personnel.

Larry and Chris’s sons, Paul and Matthew, have faithfully followed in their father’s community services footsteps. “He was so proud of our boys, the sons and the husbands they became,” Chris says.

He did not see them become fathers, passing away three years before his first grandchild was born. He was, however, intimately acquainted with Matilda and Rupert, who mystifyingly still keep him close by.

“I tell this story because I have a feeling sometimes that somebody needs to hear it,” Chris says, remembering the day Matilda introduced herself.

“One day I heard a noise and looked out the back door of our laundry room.    A hummingbird had hit the door. She was stunned but okay.

“I was holding her for awhile. When I put her down she flew away but I kept watching. She flew back. I went outside again. She looked at me as if to say thank you,” Chris says.

“When Larry was ill, he would often sit in the garden. Sometimes we would sit with our dog Lexi. Sitting there, you become one with the garden.

“Larry would sit very quietly but he had his camera. The hummingbirds would hover in front of him and the dog.

“After he’d passed - it was the next spring - I was filling the hummingbird feeder, holding it in my left hand. I hadn’t hung it up yet. I heard the hummingbird. It flew over to me and tapped my wedding ring.”

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