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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.”