South Carolinians who gave their lives for freedom honored today

State legislators will give seven families state flags today in recognition of the sacrifices their loved ones made for South Carolina and the United States.

Members of the General Assembly will today host the families of the seven South Carolina service members who died in 2008 in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom at the Summit Club in Columbia. The event is part of the Fallen Soldiers Ceremony and Luncheon, conducted annually by Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia.

Among those memorialized will be Marine Capt. Garrett Lawton, 31, a Marine who died Aug. 4 of wounds suffered in an improvised explosive device attack in the western Afghan province of Herat.

Lawton was born in Beaufort and lived there until he was 4. He returned to the Lowcountry in 2003 when he was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort with the Bengals of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 244.

He saw one combat deployment to Al Asad, Iraq, while stationed at MCAS Beaufort and was promoted to captain while there, according to air station officials. Lawton joined the Marine Corps

Special Operations Command in February 2007 and served as an F-18 Hornet weapons and sensors officer and an air officer with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, will present Lawton's mother, Catherine Peters, and his maternal grandparents, Robert and Beatrice Sampson of Beaufort, with the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor, as well as a resolution honoring Lawton's life and a state flag that was flown over the Statehouse in Lawton's memory.

"I think (the luncheon) is extremely important, not only for the honor it gives them for laying down their lives to preserve our peace and freedom, but because it serves to challenge us to match their character and courage and devotion to country," Davis said.

Lawton was twice awarded the Purple Heart -- one for the incident that resulted in his death and another for injuries sustained in an IED attack in May 2008. He also was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with the Combat V, the nation's fourth-highest combat honor.

Lawton's body was cremated and his ashes spread in December at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

As of March 14,4,907 troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, according to Department of Defense statistics. Of those troops, 65 were from South Carolina.