ENTERPRISE – Pam Stewart will gaze upon the newest additions to the walls in her Enterprise home on Thursday, and a renewed sense of patriotic pride will follow.
“(People) should appreciate the military and the sacrifices that they give – not just being away from home, but being in the danger they are,” she said. “Nowhere else in the world really has what we have here, and I think sometimes people don’t realize what that costs– not just for the soldiers, but for their families.”
Thanks to the efforts of local business owner Bob Sapp, a retired lieutenant colonel and Vietnam veteran, the medals Stewart’s uncle Rodney Evans earned in Vietnam have a refurbished shine inside beautiful framing. Chief among them is the Medal of Honor, which Evans paid for with his life on July 18, 1969 – one day after he turned 21.
The journey the medal took from President Richard Nixon’s hands to Stewart’s wall covers almost 50 years.
Evans’ tragic life
Stewart’s dad, Wyman Evans, and Rodney were twins born in the Northeast. A family from the Covington County town of Florala adopted the pair when they were about 8 years old, and things appeared to be normal for the next decade.
“(Dad) said (Rodney) was always kind of making mischief – just growing up and getting into stuff in Florala, like all boys do,” said Stewart, who was born a few years after her uncle died.
Duty called, though, when the Vietnam War erupted. The twins enlisted together in Montgomery and served their first tour side-by-side.
They returned home, and Rodney got married. Three months into the union, though, his wife died in a car accident.
Not long after the tragedy, Rodney signed up to serve another tour in Vietnam. Toward the end of that stint, the rambunctious young man displayed the courage and dedication only superheroes possess while conducting a reconnaissance sweep in the Tay Ninh Province.
According to the citation for his Medal of Honor, Sgt. Rodney Evans served as a squad leader and led his group down a path that paralleled a well-defined trail. The scout had warned the well-defined trail contained dangers like booby traps.
Suddenly a mine exploded on a nearby group, and Evans saw another enemy device to the right of his squad. He warned his men and threw himself on the mine just as an enemy soldier detonated it – saving the loss of other lives at the cost of his own.
Protecting the highest honor
Two years later, Stewart’s father and other family members gathered at the White House to accept the nation’s highest honor – the Medal of Honor – on Evans’ behalf. About 3,400 of the medals have been awarded – 33 to Alabamians as of 2016, according to AL.com – and Evans’ honor is the only one known to belong to a Wiregrass resident.
Stewart said her father beamed with pride about the medal – and others – his brother won. That pride, though, manifested in fear – which ultimately had a negative effect on the keepsakes themselves.
“When (my dad) got the medals, he was proud of them, but he kept them put away because he was so worried about something happening to them,” Stewart said.
The medals sat in storage for years until Stewart’s father passed away. Her brother possessed them until his death in 2014, when Stewart collected the honors.
Stewart knew she wanted to have them framed, but she also suffered some of the same anxiety her father had regarding their care.
“I had been wanting to for a while so I could hang them up,” she said. “I checked around a lot, and I really was honestly scared to take them somewhere because if something happened to it, you can’t replace it.”
Finally she heard Sapp had a business called The Framery. She knew Sapp through his volunteerism with the Enterprise High School Big Blue Band and also heard that Sapp served as an awards and decorations officer at a point during his Army career.
“I thought he would know what order and how to do it correctly. That was why I went with him,” she said.
Sapp researched Evans’ citation and history – even discovering that one of the medals he had earned was missing. He located a replica and included it in one of the arrangements.
And Sapp impressed Stewart with his ability to clean up and refurbish all of the mementos she said.
“I was shocked. I knew it would be good,” she said. “That’s the best it’s looked that I can remember. We were really pleased with how good a job he did.”
More honors coming
The Florala townspeople will honor Evans at 6 p.m. on July 18, the 50th anniversary of his death, during an event in the civic center that has borne his name since 2012. Two men who served with Evans are scheduled to speak at the event.
Event organizers have requested Stewart bring the medal arrangements to the commemoration for display – another reason she had the medals framed after all these years.
Until that event, Stewart will relish having them on her walls after all these years. She said completing the project instills more meaning to her Independence Day.
“Just knowing we’ll be able to look at them and they’re in the order they’re supposed to be in and they’re displayed properly,” Stewart said.