After getting home from Vietnam, Towson attorney Mike Lawlor says he rarely told others about his time in the service.
"You wouldn't tell them that you were in the Army or the military service, much less tell them you were in Vietnam," he says.
Upon returning to finish law school, he told school officials that he originally left class to "find himself." He says vets then were looked down upon.
"It's just the way it was."
Years later, that all changed. In the 1990's, he was asked by Baltimore County to help build a Vietnam monument. Forty-five thousand dollars later, the black granite memorial stood tall outside the courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. All of Baltimore County's service members killed in the war are etched into the stone. Lawlor was instrumental in raising the money and tracking down the 149 names. He grew up with many of the people on the list.
"The Vietnam monument is a beautiful stone," Lawlor said. "And it does not have the problems that the times had."
At the time, Lawlor didn't know that 20 years later he would be dedicating his next monument; a tribute to those killed in Afghanistan and both US operations in Iraq.
"I had read an article in the VFW magazine that there were virtually no monuments for Operation Iraq Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," he says.
After mentioning this at one of his now annual Memorial Day speeches, County officials gave Lawlor the job.
"Later I went, 'What did you just do to yourself?'," he laughs. "I just think that these later individuals should be honored also. Since I'm alive to do it, let's go get it done."
This time, the fundraising effort had Lawlor heading to Annapolis to lobby state lawmakers for funding. Eventually, $130,000 was raised. The new monument was dedicated on November 6, 2016 capping off what became an emotional journey. The first name on the list of fallen veterans just happens to be his own. Michael S. Lawlor, his nephew, was killed in a helicopter accident at Camp Pendleton in California.
"It's been a while but it still bothers me a little bit," he said choking up.
Now that the monuments are standing, Lawlor says he wouldn't trade the experience for money; knowing that his family, friends and fellow service members will get the recognition they deserve.
"I'm glad that 100 years from now people are going to be saying, 'Hey, good for you kid.'
Next, Lawlor is raising money to renovate the Wayside Cross memorial to fallen World War I veterans, which stands at York Rd. and Shealy Ave. in Towson. He hopes to have the project finished by 2021; the one-hundredth anniversary of the monument's dedication.