When a public relations firm first contacted me asking if I might be interested in interviewing a Black veteran who had served in the Vietnam War and who would be joining several other veterans in a sponsored trip to the District to view the memorials built in their honor, I was initially nonplussed.
In fact, I had every intention of passing the assignment on to another reporter. After all, I had been too young to either care about or understand the ramifications of Vietnam during the turbulent ’60s when our nation’s decision to send soldiers overseas all but divided the country in two.
What I did remember were vague memories of how young Black men were routinely sent to the front lines where they were used as pawns. Many died on the battlefield but others, fortunate enough to return home, came back changed forever: drug addicts, mentally or physically impaired, or veterans who failed to receive the same level of gratitude and support that veterans from other wars had garnered.
This was a story that I assumed would provide me with nothing new to write about and certainly very little if anything that would either inspire or interest the dedicated readers and supporters of The Washington Informer.
But it was a Black veteran. And we are a Black-owned publication. So, reluctantly, I agreed to speak with Lawrence Boyd Sr., a 76-year-old, humble man from a small town in Tennessee who had volunteered for the Army when he was barely 20 years old and had served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
As we talked, I realized that my assumptions about Vietnam and the mostly young men who served during those years of unprecedented death and destruction were wrong. I learned how little I really understood about war and its life-altering impact on both those who served and the families to whom they returned – if they were fortunate enough to make it back home.
Mr. Boyd opened my mind, changed my perspective and forced me to look at both myself and my fellow Americans in a new way. Our encounter has made me a better man – a better human being – a better American.
In the story linked here, you will discover what an everyday Black man taught me with his sincere and honest answers and observations. I learned more from him than almost anyone I can remember in my close to 30 years as a reporter for the Black Press.