Lieutenant Colonel Henry Paul La Force Jr, US Army Retired, 92, of Brevard, North Carolina, passed away on August 8, 2022. A true American Hero, Paul La Force was born on September 20, 1929, in Dante, Virginia. Paul was the son of Henry Paul La Force Sr. and Stella Wright La Force. In addition to his parents, Paul was preceded in death by his wife Jean and his son Douglas Ronald La Force.
Paul was from a large La Force family in Virginia whose original French Huguenot ancestor emigrated to Goochland County, Virginia, from France in 1689 to escape religious persecution. The La Force men fought in every major American war, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, The War Between the States where the La Forces fought for the South in the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee, World War I, World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Paul was 12 years old when the United States entered World War II and 16 when it ended. Too young to serve in the war, when his family was transferred to Wisconsin, where his father worked at a defense munitions plant, Paul spent two summers working as a tour guide on a Wisconsin Dells sightseeing boat and saved enough money to pay his own way to attend Roosevelt Military Academy in Aledo, Illinois, an elite boys military prep school. At RMA, Paul excelled as a cadet and was on the crack drill team, standout on both the basketball and football teams, and sang in the glee club. When his family moved back to Hopewell, Virginia after the war, Paul attended Hopewell High School where he was elected both class president and student body president. Paul was an outstanding football player on the championship Hopewell High School team. He played tackle (both ways back then) and the new Hopewell High School head football coach Tom Nugent was so impressed with Paul's football acumen that he had Paul call all of the plays in the huddle. Coach Nugent was such a successful high school coach at Hopewell that he was hired by the Virginia Military Institute as their head coach straight from coaching high school. Coach Nugent thought so much of Paul's football skill that he arranged for Paul to spend one year playing post-graduate football at Benedictine Military School in Richmond and then arranged a full football scholarship to VMI the following year. When Paul left VMI Coach Nugent told him that he would always have a job coaching football on his staff wherever he was if he wanted. Coach Nugent went on to further success as head coach at the University of Maryland and Florida State University where he coached both Burt Reynolds and Lee Corso and was selected to the College Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
While in Hopewell, Paul met the love of his life Jean Elizabeth Dunnavant of Petersburg. It was a match made in Heaven that led to sixty-six years of marriage, three sons, and four grandchildren. While in his first year at VMI, the Korean War broke out and Paul said that he was too young for World War II but wasn't going to miss his opportunity to fight for his country in Korea. Paul left VMI at the conclusion of his first year and enlisted in the Army. After Basic and Advanced Infantry training, he was selected for Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning. Upon graduation from OCS, after a wedding and short honeymoon with Jean, he was sent straight to the front lines in Korea where he distinguished himself with exceptional gallantry serving as a platoon leader with the 7th Infantry Division. He was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in one particularly vicious encounter where his platoon's position was overrun by Chinese Communists. He led the defense of his platoon's position and helped repel the attack in hand to hand combat using his bayonet and swinging his rifle as a club to overpower the enemy. Paul was awarded two additional bronze stars with V for Valor devices for additional combat bravery as well as the Purple Heart medal due to wounds received in combat. Upon his return to the States after the war, Paul was assigned to the Infantry School and placed in charge of the Bayonet Committee based largely on his combat experience in Korea.
While at Fort Benning after the war, Paul decided to go to flight school to become an Army aviator.
Initially he flew fixed wing aircraft and later helicopters. After a mix of ground Infantry and flight assignments for the next twelve years, it was time to go to war again. This time it was as a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of an aviation battalion flying Huey helicopters. Paul deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division in 1965. Again in the thick of the fighting, Paul was seriously injured when he was shot while involved in the rescue of another downed helicopter crew as they were defending themselves from Vietcong soldiers who were closing in on the downed crewmen in a jungle clearing. Paul recovered from his wounds and continued to serve in various command assignments almost ten more years, retiring in 1973. His many decorations included a third bronze star with valor and air medals from Vietnam, the Legion of Merit, multiple meritorious service medals, commendation medals, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and many more.
Paul got into the club management field after his Army retirement and served as general manager of several prestigious country clubs including Fox Den Country Club in Knoxville, Tennessee and The Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tennessee. His final management position brought him to Brevard where he was hired to be the General Manager of Connestee Falls in 1989. Paul and Jean fell in love with Connestee Falls and Brevard and decided to make Connestee Falls their permanent home. After a number of enjoyable years as manager at Connestee, Paul retired for the last time and he and Jean enjoyed over twenty years together in the house they built on top of a ridge in Connestee Falls with their much loved views of the beautiful mountains surrounding them. When Jean passed away six years ago the family worried that Paul would not last long without her but thanks to the outstanding care that his caregiver team under the direction of Anne Jones provided, Paul enjoyed six more years of happy life in his own home. The family owes Anne and her team an undying debt of gratitude for their loving care of our father and grandfather and we will always consider Anne a cherished member of our family.
Paul was more than a military hero and excellent manager. Paul loved life. He loved music and loved to sing. He played string bass in a dance band in high school and sang in his high school and college glee clubs. He loved four part harmony and loved singing with several barbershop quartets and choruses. He and Jean would sing in harmony together on all of our family road trips. He sang with the Connestee chorale and performed with them in their annual Christmas concert until his late 80s. Paul was a great athlete and loved to play golf. He was the club champion at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and held the course record there for many years. Paul and his sons Glen and Hank competed in the annual Father-Son golf tournament at Connestee Falls for many years and won the event twice. He loved playing with his regular golfing partners at Connestee and his nickname was “two putt Paul.” - Paul and Jean loved to entertain and their sons grew up watching their parents host many parties through the years that were full of laughter and good times. Paul and Jean enjoyed dancing together to the big band tunes they grew up with. In their later years Paul and Jean enjoyed travelling and seeing the country together from New England to the Midwest.
Paul's survivors include his sons Glen Winston La Force, Sr. and his wife Linda of Hilton Head Island, SC and Henry Paul La Force III and his wife Amy of Knoxville, TN; his sister Marie (La Force) Talley and her husband Harry of Youngsville, NC; his brother and sister in law Dr. Ronald Dew and Winnie Dew of Columbia, SC; and his grandchildren Win La Force Jr. of Orlando, Florida, Betsy La Force of Charleston, SC, Catherine La Force and husband Tim Carter of Nashville, TN, and Julie (La Force) Freeman and her husband Jordan of Birmingham, AL.
A graveside service with full military honors will be conducted for Paul La Force at his family plot in Virginia at a time to be determined. “Well done thy good and faithful servant – Be thou at Peace”
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