Ken Boyd

Ken Boyd, a veteran of the Vietnam War, talks about where Our Heroes Dreams plans to build a wheelchair-friendly bathroom connecting to his home.

Julissa Zavala, The Sentinel

HANFORD — Ken Boyd had two weeks left of time as a soldier in the Vietnam War when he volunteered to go on a week-long patrol; it was a decision that changed the rest of his life.

Boyd was drafted in 1966, a year after graduating high school, and was sent to Fort Ord for basic training. From there he went to more training in Georgia before being sent to Vietnam in February of 1967.

In Vietnam, Boyd said he was “all over the country” in places like the Central Highlands and Pleiku with the 4th Infantry Division, and Bong Son and Ankhe with the 1st Calvary Division.

On the last night of patrol at around 2:30 a.m., Boyd and the six other men with him were overrun with Vietnamese soldiers.

Right off the bat, three of Boyd’s fellow soldiers were killed by gunfire and grenades. Boyd said he was hit by three satchel charges — a demolition device usually made from gunpowder and nails, rocks and glass — which made him lose his gun and other weapons.

“When those things hit you, it feels like you’re in a garbage can and somebody’s beating on it with a hammer,” Boyd said.

As he was crawling away toward some machine guns, he said he felt something like a rock hit the side of his leg.

“All of a sudden, kaboom,” Boyd said. “I took a direct hit from a grenade on the outside of my leg.”

Boyd said he felt like his right leg was spinning as he tried to crawl away once again and realized it was his nerves coming into contact with the ground. He said he was losing blood from his femoral artery and tried to squeeze it to stop the flow.

He said it grew deathly quiet and he could hear the footsteps of Vietnamese soldiers coming toward him. All he could do was dig a quick hole to stick his face in and hoped they couldn’t hear him breathing.

He said a soldier walked by him and kicked him hard in the side twice before stealing his wristwatch and dogtags.

As the Vietnamese soldiers sat only a few yards away eating the American soldiers’ food rations, Boyd said he began to feel himself slip away from the blood loss. He said he even began saying goodbye to his family members in his head.

“I didn’t give up or anything, but I did say some goodbyes,” Boyd said.

Just then, an American helicopter flew overhead and began exchanging gunfire with the Vietnamese soldiers.

“Bullets were flying all around me on the ground,” Boyd remembers. “I’m thinking ‘oh man, if the hand grenade didn’t get me I’m going to get it from our guys’ bullets coming down.’”

Finally, he said the soldiers began to retreat and a medevac helicopter landed, which is when he started believing he could make it out alive. He was found, put on a stretcher, taken to the helicopter and flown to the hospital.

Boyd now sits in a wheelchair. He used to wear a prosthetic leg while he was employed at Naval Air Station Lemoore for 40 years, but can’t anymore because of knee problems.

He called coming home “miserable,” recalling when he was at an Army hospital in San Francisco and had to deal with people cussing him out, calling him and other soldiers names and spitting at them.

“They we’re talking to the wrong people when they were doing that crap,” Boyd said. “I didn’t go over there for the hell of it, I was told to go over there.”

He said Veterans Day gets him to thinking about his time in the service, though he doesn’t like to dwell on the past. He said he had good times in Vietnam, too, like partying with the other soldiers at base camp and meeting great people.

He’ll never forget the time he went to Hawaii for a week with his buddy Mike Nelson for some rest and recuperation.

It was there that Boyd met his future wife, Sharon, who was on vacation from Canada. When he was back in Vietnam, he and Sharon would write letters to each other.

After losing his leg, however, they all but lost contact with one another.

It would take 20 years and one phone call for Boyd and Sharon to be reunited; the two married in 1989. They share one daughter, and Boyd has another daughter and son from a previous relationship.

A few years ago, with Boyd having a bad knee and hip and his wife developing multiple sclerosis, they both lost the ability to walk and began using wheelchairs. The couple can’t access their bathtub or shower to properly clean off.

The Boyd’s tried getting money from the Veterans Administration to modify their bathroom and widen doorways throughout the house to make it more wheelchair-friendly.

After initially approving money for the request, Boyd said he was sent a letter at the last minute telling him he “wasn’t disabled enough.”

That’s where Justin Bond, a local veteran who lost his left leg from a wound sustained in combat in Iraq in 2004, came into the picture.

Bond, who was helping them with the VA paperwork, got fed up and decided to fund the $78,000 project through his nonprofit organization for veterans, Our Heroes Dreams.

“It’s going slow, but I think it’s going to get done and that’ll be wonderful,” Boyd said. “It’ll be a big change in our lives.”

There’s still a long way to go for the project, and right now Bond said they still need concrete donated so the foundation can be laid down. He’s hopeful the community will come together and donate for the project.

“He’s amazing,” Boyd said of Bond. “I’m sure glad I met him. I can’t give enough thanks to him.”

Knowing full well the mental toll war takes on soldiers, Boyd said he thanks God for Bond and what he has been able to do for veterans through Our Heroes Dreams.

“I still have nightmares,” Boyd said. “It’s just something you never get rid of.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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