By Lauren H. Dowdle
Photos by Mary Tweedy
Having received several awards and distinctions during a military career that took him around the world, the one that brought Ret. Col. Peyton F. Ligon the greatest honor came from here in Hoover.
He received the 2022 Hoover Freedom Award and was recognized during a Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon this past summer for his military service, promoting the ideas of freedom and his work as a veteran’s service officer. This award meant so much to him because it came from the community he calls home, Peyton says.
“It also means that I have to continue representing my community in a fashion that continues to bring honor to them,” he adds.
Even from a young age, Peyton aspired to serve his country. He had a great uncle who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Peyton says he attributes that to him wanting to one day attend the academy.
His family later moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where his father knew a congressman who offered him an alternate appointment to West Point. He just needed to attend North Carolina State College (now N.C. State University) for a year before becoming the primary Congressional appointee the following year.
“This was very fortunate for me in that I was able to enroll in the reserve officer training course (ROTC) at N.C. State College and be exposed to the basics of military life such as drilling, marksmanship training and wearing of military uniforms,” he says.
That experience served him well when he reported to West Point on July 2, 1962. He graduated four years later and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in infantry and attended airborne and ranger school—before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. There, he gained the training needed to deploy to South Vietnam for his first tour.
“Like all my classmates that went to Vietnam right away, we continued to gain firsthand experience every day, which helped us survive the rigors of combat,” Peyton explains. “Since I volunteered for Vietnam, we were given our first choice of assignment, which for me was the 173rd Airborne Brigade.”
His brigade was the first unit to be deployed to Vietnam in 1965 and earned the reputation of being one of the best units there. He joined the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment as a rifle platoon leader and soon entered into combat engagement in the jungle terrain.
“It was during my first combat experience that I found myself in the position of having to assume command of the company when my company commander was seriously wounded and evacuated,” Peyton recalls. “As a result, I was surprised to learn that I had been recommended for award of the Silver Star.”
Like most soldiers, Peyton doesn’t like to discuss his awards and says there are many soldiers who should have been recommended for awards but, for a variety of reasons, were not.
By October 1967, he was assigned to the battalion staff as the air operations officer and was responsible for planning and conducting all battalion air assault operations.
“This was one of the most enjoyable opportunities I had during my first tour in Vietnam, since I was able to ride in the command and control helicopter during all these air assault operations,” he says, reflecting.
After that deployment, he went on to serve as an instructor in the mountain ranger camp in Georgia, general’s aide in Maryland and then went for his second tour in Vietnam.
His career also included positions such as company commander, battalion operations officer, cadet company tactical officer and regimental executive officer at West Point, war plans officer and secretary of the combined staff in the Republic of Korea.
“You learn to trust your subordinates when you are in a leadership position,” Peyton says. “Give them guidance and then give them room to make a few mistakes, but keep them focused as necessary.”
His last assignment was to the Second Army as the deputy chief of staff for training before retiring after 27 years of active duty.
“This was an easy decision since we were ready to settle down,” Peyton says of him and his wife, Jan. “This is what brought us to the Birmingham area, as my next job was working in a sales position in a manufacturing company in Alabama.”
Even in retirement, his decades of experience in the military helped teach him numerous lessons that he tries to apply daily—including having a plan for what needs to be done each day or during a specific timeframe.
“When possible, you may also need a backup plan to stay flexible, since nothing always goes according to plan,” he says. “If something can go wrong, it will.”
While his active duty might be over, Peyton continues to support and meet with local veterans as a member of Ryan Winslow American Legion Post 911. The primary goal of this organization is to continue recruiting and supporting veterans in the Hoover area.
Missions they’ve accomplished include providing financial assistance to veterans in the Hoover community, conducting annual fundraisers for veterans in need, participating in the annual Veterans Day Parade, sponsoring the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony, supporting the Hoover High School Air Force JROTC and much more.
Post 911 is one of about 12,000 posts worldwide—including Paris, France, where the first American Legion Post was founded at the end of WWI.
“This makes it the nation’s largest and most influential service organization,” Peyton says.
His service in the Army not only helped shape him into the man he is today, but the people who he worked with and met also left a lasting impression.
“I was extremely fortunate to have served with and for some of the Army’s finest soldiers and top leaders who helped me learn how to best apply the principles of leadership and therefore successfully command those units that I had been instructed to lead,” Peyton says. “I also was able to establish very close relationships with other officers and their families, which we stay in contact with today.”
Support Local Veterans
Both those who have served and their loved ones can get involved with and help local veterans through Ryan Winslow American Legion Post 911.
While veterans are at the heart of this organization, the American Legion also expands beyond them to include the entire family. It encompasses the Sons of the American Legions (sons and grandsons of veterans), American Legion Auxiliary (spouses, daughters and granddaughters) and the American Legion Riders. The Riders group includes veterans who ride motorcycle to support Memorial Day, Veterans Day, military funerals and other patriotic events in the Hoover area.
“We encourage all family members that have a veteran who is a member of the American Legion to consider joining one of the family groups, which supports the overall efforts of Post 911,” Peyton says.
For more information on how to support or join Post 911, visit their Facebook page @CombatMilitaryVets.