Probably around Veterans Day, the city will dedicate a new block of housing for veterans. Tenants will start living there in August.
No name has yet been chosen for the 37 units of low-cost housing to be located in the long-vacant, four-story, brick Spring Garden School at 12th and Ogden Streets in North Philadelphia. There is, however, an excellent candidate.
I got the planned dedication date from builder HELP USA, after City Council President Darrell Clarke’s spokeswoman, Jane Roh, had no comment about a possible name and did not respond to an email seeking other details.
Ground was broken last September for the $14.5 million site, a partnership between the Philadelphia Housing Authority and HELP USA, a national housing and homeless services organization.
Converting abandoned school buildings into housing is a good idea, but not a new one. It’s been done in other cities and is being done in another part of this city.
The old Edison High School at Seventh Street and Lehigh Avenue is being developed by Orens Bros. Real Estate. That project is called Edison 64, representing the number of young men from Edison killed in Vietnam, the greatest toll suffered by any American high school. It is a mournful distinction it did not seek.
Among the 64 is a man who deserves special recognition, his comrades-in-arms believe: Lural Lee Blevins III.
They believe he should have received the Medal of Honor for unselfish heroism.
His then-commanding officer, Lt. Charles Newhall, put in papers for the honor right after Blevins died on the battlefield in 1968, three months short of his 23rd birthday.
Blevins died covering the withdrawal of his unit, taking murderous fire on a hillside.
“Covering the retreat of the platoon was heroic,” said Newhall. Without Blevins, the 20 to 30 casualties would have been doubled, he said.
The paperwork for the medal got lost and forgotten in the fog of war.
In 2015, Newhall published a book about his Vietnam experiences and quoted several of Blevins’ comrades, some of whom I found.
Blevins left “the relative safety of a howitzer gun crew to carry my radio while I was serving as a forward observer for the infantry,” said Ron Christian, then a lieutenant.
“He showed a natural bravery and instinctively disregarded his own safety,” said Christian.
In his book, Newhall expressed guilt about Blevins’ not getting the medal he had earned, so much so that he recently reached out to Darryrl Johnson, a now-retired Edison teacher who is the historian of the Edison 64 and the point man for Blevins’ comrades pushing to get him the medal.
The veterans contacted U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, who represents Germantown, where Blevins lived. Evans’ communications director, Becca Brukman, told me his office is trying find the best way to move the ball forward.
That brings us back to the present and the renovated Spring Garden school.
It needs a name.
Wanda Pate asked Edison 64’s Johnson for a recommendation. Pate works for the Veterans Advisory Commission — which is under the wing of Clarke, the Council president, and is being reorganized after executive director Scott Brown was fired for unexplained reasons.
Johnson recommended Blevins, and in a brief conversation Pate told me Blevins “is one of the names being considered.”
PHA spokesman Kirk Dorn said the naming would be done by HELP USA, the building’s owner. David Cleghorn, HELP USA’s senior vice president for real estate development, told me the organization prefers a name for the project that would be “important to the neighborhood.”
Is HELP USA open to suggestions from neighbors and City Council? “Absolutely,” said Cleghorn.
I can’t imagine anyone more deserving than Blevins, who sacrificed his life for his buddies.
It couldn’t hurt for City Council to ask — and for Blevins’ buddies to start making noise.