Addressing his sacrifice

Shaw’s relatives, from left, brother Robert Jones, nephew Deandre Johnson and brothers Bobby Johnson and Larry Johnson, stand under one of the new street signs bearing his name.

Not far from where John Dillinger Shaw played with toy soldiers and first put on a uniform as a Boy Scout lasting reminders of him tower over the street where he lived.

Summit officials recently named Cedar Street after the native son who was killed in action while serving in Vietnam on July 7, 1965.

But their unanimous decision, made in June and put into effect with new street signs installed weeks ago, brought a wave of opposition from residents affected by the change during Thursday night’s town council meeting.

“We found out from other residents telling us the name of our street has been changed,” Sue Watts said. “I knew that it was going to be many of us that came out tonight because it was just plain wrong how it was done. We received a notice after the fact.”

Watts, who presented a petition asking for the street to be changed back to Cedar Street, said residents are inconvenienced by having to change their addresses and may end up missing mail.

“Certain things are not forwarded,” she said.

Board attorney Wayne Dowdy said the town council acted within its discretion and according to the law and has nothing to apologize for.

“I will state that this council obeyed every law and it's completely discretionary or the elected members of this town council to do what they did,” he said.  

Robert Vick, a former town councilman who is the pastor of Summit Missionary Baptist Church, which is on the renamed street, said he’s not questioning the legality of the move but believed there was a lack of consideration for residents.

“Dowdy, I spent 20-something years down here. I know what the law says,” he said. “A small town is about relationships. It's not about the law. It is about the people.”

Resident Tonnetta Todd Lenoir said her father Terrance is a Vietnam vet suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.

“I'm not saying that you shouldn't change the street,” she said to Shaw’s relatives. “I know your brother was probably an excellent man, just like my father.  I see both sides. There should have been more notices."

The Enterprise-Journal published an article after the council approved the name change and the town posted legal notices as required by law but Vick said many residents were uninformed of the change because they don’t take the paper.

“All of you failed in representing the people on Cedar Street,” he told the council. “You needed to go from door to door like you did to get voted on.”

Bobby Johnson disagreed.  

“I am one of the brothers of John D. Shaw,” he said.

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Shaw was born Oct. 18, 1942, and attended Burglund High School, where he was quarterback of the football team.

He was one of the older kids in his family and looked after other children in the neighborhood. He delivered newspapers for a living.

"He was well liked in the community and everywhere,” Johnson said.

Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 22 and served with the 503rd infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.  

Months later he died in battle on the north side of the Dong Nai River in South Vietnam, never seeing his 23rd birthday. He’s buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, a couple of blocks away from the street for which he is now named.

“John D. never had a chance to raise a family. He never had a chance to have a nice home on Cedar Street,” Johnson said. “We need to try to look a the big picture here. We're talking about a man that was well-liked in the community. Hanging the name of a street is a small thing to give for what he gave. He made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for his country. And if he was fighting for his country, guess what — he was fighting for you."

Another of Shaw’s brothers, Robert Jones, was just 6 when Shaw died.

Jones said he recalled his big brother telling him why he volunteered for the Army.

“He told me, ‘I'm fighting for our rights,’ because back then, it was colored water fountains, colored bathrooms,” he said.

Jones said those are the very same rights residents upset over the change were exercising that night by speaking out.

“My brother went to Vietnam and fought for these type of causes and then you're going to shun it?" he said.  "I'm sorry if I upset somebody because I'm kind of getting upset myself. I've got people from Summit, my hometown, against it?"

Another brother, Larry Johnson kept his remarks short, saying that if residents opposed to the matter had experienced that kind of loss only to have their attempted tribute rebuked, they would also feel hurt.

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Vick said several times throughout the meeting that he wasn’t doubting Shaw’s honor and sacrifice but his dispute rested with the lack of notification and inconvenience.  

The neighbors said there are other ways to honor Shaw’s legacy without the inconvenience of an address change.

The pleas for changing the street back are likely to get little traction among the town council, however, especially since the signs have already been put up and paperwork has been filed with various county agencies, including the chancery clerk and tax offices and the 911 commission.  

Additionally, three of the town’s five elected officials — Mayor Percy Robinson, Councilwoman Pauline Monley and Councilman Joe Lewis are veterans.

"I am a little disappointed. I served in the military. For what this young man did at his age, that to me is an American hero,” Monley said. “This is where he's from. He lived on Cedar Street. He's buried in that cemetery.

“If he was standing here today, I would raise my right hand and salute him.”

Monley said she was hurt to hear residents say the council failed them, but she stood by her decision.

“I am a veteran and Veterans Day is Monday, on the 11th,” she said.

She said she had to change her address after she left the service and moved back home.

“I didn’t have no problems getting anything changed, my medications or nothing,” she said.

Councilman Daryl Porter, who attends Vick's church, said he sympathized with “both parties in this matter."

“This family came up where with this request, a noble and honorable request, and I saw no problem with it,” he said. “We agreed that the street should be named after him while following proper protocol. No point in time did anybody come and voice any opposition to this street being named after this gentleman.”

Lewis also defended his vote.

“I'm a veteran,” he said. “A veteran goes through tremendous pain.  I have been Shaw’s position. When you go over to foreign country and you don't hear from your relatives, you don't hear from your friends, there are things that we go through.”

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