Lawrence Boyd Sr., 76, a Black veteran who volunteered for service in the Vietnam War, said he has never forgotten the lessons he learned while fighting for his country more than 50 years ago.
But what sticks with him most profoundly may come as a surprise to the majority of other Americans.
Boyd, now a resident of Puyallup, Washington, a small town not far from Tacoma, contends that despite the bombs, the carnage and the other atrocities he witnessed as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, what he realized while in the service was how manmade distinctions of people based on race and skin color became blurred as he and his fellow soldiers struggled to survive.
On April 24, Boyd, with the support of both Puget Sound Honor Flight, a non-profit that provides transportation to America’s vets so they can view the memorials erected and built in their honor in Washington, D.C., and Talking Rain, a leading beverage company, visited the Vietnam Wall.
One executive from Talking Rain expressed why the company sponsored Boyd.
“Talking Rain Beverage Company has been a long-standing partner of Puget Sound Honor Flight and we’re so happy to be a part of these veterans’ journeys, especially Mr. Boyd’s. His story is truly remarkable and we know how important this trip was for him. We look forward to helping even more veterans reflect at the memorials built in their honor for years to come,” said Nina Morrison, senior vice president of Community Experience, Talking Rain Beverage Company.
Boyd Explains His Purpose for the Trip
Boyd said he had long hoped to make the trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial so he could make an etching of the name of one of his fallen comrades while paying tribute to his friend – PFC Watson, a fellow solider, also Black, who died after the Vietcong ambushed their unit.
Watson’s death occurred on the day that marked Boyd’s first patrol assignment and would serve as his first of many experiences on the battlefield.
“As Watson lay dying, there was a medic, a white soldier, who was working desperately to try and save him,” Boyd said. “He was literally trying to blow life back into Watson and had to eventually be pulled away from him – it was too late. I realized that everyone who was around me during the war was more than just other soldiers – we were family. And it didn’t matter what color your skin was.”
Boyd said that he has never wavered in that belief but acknowledges that it has been tested time and time again.
“I grew up in a very small town just outside of Memphis, Tennessee called Millington and while discrimination was commonplace, my parents taught me and my siblings that we should never allow others to tell us or to determine for us who we should like or dislike,” he said. “When some whites in town burned a sign that stood in front of our house which was an advertisement featuring a Black woman promoting hair products, a lot of people said we should hate the whites who did it. But our father ordered me and other children inside our home and demanded that we not bring hatred of others into our home.”
“Another time, just after I had returned from Vietnam, I was on a bus traveling from my hometown to Memphis. Three white men were sitting in the rear when one of my cousins, a woman, got on. She spotted me and excitedly welcomed me home. When the three men realized I was a veteran, they threatened to kick me off the bus. Nothing happened, however. But their reaction and threats didn’t bother me, either,” he said.
Boyd served in the Army for 20 years and said he has never regretted his decision to enlist. He said he knew that if he stayed home, his future would be limited to working in the cotton fields.
However, he faced other challenges. As a child and even into his early adult years, he suffered from a severe stuttering problem. In fact, he was forced to repeat both the fifth and ninth grades after his teachers mistook his speech impediment with subpar intelligence. Again, he would find an answer to his problem because of the support he received from a white sergeant.
“I tried to be perfect and say as little as possible but one day one of the officers pulled me aside and said he know I had a speech impediment,” Boyd said. “He told me that there was a way to correct it and he sent me to Walter Reed Army Hospital for three months during which I worked with several teachers who taught me how to overcome my problem. The rest is history.”
Today, Boyd remains committed to establishing a program at a church now being built near his home in Lakewood, Washington where he hopes to help others, both children and adults, who suffer from speech problems.
“I want to help others because I know what it feels like,” he said. “I remember being bullied as a child and I remember how people thought I was stupid when I wasn’t. As a soldier, I had to help carry my comrades who had fallen and been killed. I’d never done that before.”
“Now, I want to help other comrades whose names I do not know – those who have been ostracized and told they were nothing simply because of their inability to speak properly or to speak but are unable to be clearly understood. They deserve a chance to realize their dreams,” he said
“I’m still serving others – that’s what soldiers do,” Boyd concluded.
To contact Boyd, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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