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Veteran’s Encounter With Vietnamese American Adoptees Eases Pain After 50 Years

For one Marine, inspirational stories of the rescued eclipse haunting thoughts of wounded children

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Roger Boyd, circa 1969 - 1970, at base Marble Mountain in Vietnam.
Courtesy Roger Boyd
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Getty Images/AARP

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For more than half a century, Roger Boyd, a Marine helicopter gunner and crew chief who flew 720 missions in Vietnam, was haunted by memories of war.

In particular, Boyd could never forget his experience of having to step on wounded children he had rescued and hold a crowd of desperate families at bay by pointing his rifle at them.

All that changed at a reunion in Hilton Head, South Carolina, in 2021. Boyd, now 73, laughed and joked with fellow Marines — all of them grayer than he remembered, as was he. But it was the three nonveterans in attendance who helped relieve what he had struggled with for more than 50 years.

The trio were Vietnamese American babies — adults now — who had been adopted by American families in the 1970s and who had gone to the reunion to thank the veterans for helping save their lives.

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Seeing them took Boyd back to an incident near An Hoa, southwest of Da Nang, in 1970. Boyd was returning from a mission when his CH-46 helicopter was diverted to pick up victims from a school bus that had been bombed by the enemy. The helicopter landed on Highway One, where he found scores of children injured, bleeding and maimed.

“It was ungodly,” Boyd, who lives in Oelwein, Iowa, told AARP Veteran Report. “I remember thinking, What the hell am I doing here? I was a 19-year-old kid with no medical training. There was a language barrier. And there were all of these distraught parents, carrying all these bleeding little children.”

Boyd loaded as many as he could onto the CH-46, but there was no way he could help all of them. “They were two-deep,” he said. “I simply couldn’t take any more.”

Parents were screaming and begging him to help. They were unaware another helicopter was on its way, and he didn’t know how to tell them. The roar of the engines made communication even more challenging.

“We had to take off so that another aircraft could land,” he said. The clamoring families were hampering the rescue. Boyd picked up his rifle and pointed it at them, using it to push away others who were trying to climb aboard. 

Then, to get to his crew chief seat behind the cockpit, he had to walk over the wounded children. “I had to step on humans,” he said, the shock of it still in his voice. “I’ve never erased that image.”

Boyd, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courage under fire during a separate mission, never knew what happened to the children he delivered to a hospital that day. Trying to find out prompted him to travel to Vietnam in 2019. But no one seemed to know anything about the incident.

Meeting the adoptees two years after the trip helped provide a measure of the closure he had sought. They are Kirk Kellerhals and Rachel Galvez, cofounders of the SEA2C Foundation, and Daniel Brown.

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All three of them are the offspring of American fathers who had fought in the war and Vietnamese mothers. Many such children were adopted by American families, the majority as part of Operation Babylift after the final U.S. withdrawal in 1975.

The foundation’s primary mission is to support Vietnamese American adoptees, including assistance with finding birth families.

Boyd’s encounter with the trio filled him with joy and fueled his hope that some of the children on his helicopter, and those he had been forced to leave behind that horrific day in 1970, had grown up to have good lives too.

“I was so struck by what good, impressive people they turned out to be. I was proud of them,” he said. “They’re just incredible.”

Boyd has kept in touch with the adoptees, a healing connection across generations and between the U.S. and Vietnam. “It was just so memorable — and so good,” he said.

To learn more about the work of the SEA2C Foundation, visit

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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