Veteran Robert Boyd: The man who wasn’t there

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U.S. Air Force veteran Robert Boyd

U.S. Air Force veteran Robert Boyd

THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED. An earlier version of this story appeared with an error in Robert Boyd's age. He is 62.

Officially, Robert Boyd was a mechanic. He was trained to work on C-130s, the large planes taking troops and material into and out of the war zone of Vietnam.

But his time in the Air Force didn’t quite work out that way.

“I never turned a wrench on an airplane,” he told a room of more than 20 eager listeners May 15 at the Kent Senior Center.

Instead, after arriving in the Philippines, Boyd was offered a chance for a new career with better pay and a much more exciting lifestyle.

Boyd became a sniper.

Officially, Boyd was never in Vietnam. But unofficially, the Puyallup resident had 173 kills (unconfirmed) including several targets he called “high value.”

“There is no record of my ever being in Vietnam,” he repeated, “so we can’t verify the kill count.”

But Boyd tells his story in his new book, “Codename Litefoot,” a title taken from his actual code name during the two tours of duty he never officially did in ‘Nam.

“A lot of different things happened in Vietnam that no one really knows about,” he said. “My book is full of them.”

Boyd, who spoke at the senior center as part of a day-long event celebrating Armed Forces Day and the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, was in Vietnam and the tales he tells, retold in his book as an “autobiographical fiction,” are all too real and still cause the 62-year-old veteran to choke up, especially when discussing friends who never made it home.

“All of my friends, those that enlisted with me, all died in Vietnam,” he said.

His closest friend and “spotter” on his sniper team, a man named Jack (who also was never officially in Vietnam) also died while in country.

The book, Boyd said, was a “defining story of growth and friendship” with his spotter.

But more importantly, Boyd said he wanted to tell his story to help other veterans deal with the post traumatic stress disorders that come with serving in a war zone, as well as to tell the American public what it was like over there.

“They weren’t the same when they came back,” Boyd said of his fellow soldiers. “It’s a book of education.”

For many non-military readers, Boyd warns the book is graphic and contains military language and words, which is why a 12-page glossary is included.

“From page one of my book, you are in combat,” he said.

While in the military, Boyd, who learned to shoot as a young man with his father, also worked on developing the sniper rifle still used today, as well as the camouflage “ghillie suit” used in Vietnam.

His talk, like his book, was filled with details about ammunition choices, as well as many of the missions he was on as a sniper. Boyd talked about his experiences with the weather and other conditions one has to deal with when shooting long distances and the book is packed with minor details that bring life to the events, like, for example, the guns he used.

“I had seven different rifles while I was there and all their names were ‘Headstone,’” he said.

Boyd’s presentation was arranged in part by Bob Newman, a senior-center member and Navy vet who hosts similar events every year. Newman said he read Boyd’s book and decided he had to have him speak even before he was halfway through the thick text.

Program Coordinator Helena Reynolds said the day was designed as a tribute to veterans.

“It’s important to pay tribute and respect our veterans,” she said.

While many in attendance were vets themselves, not everyone had military experience. Caden Tongue, 11, and his brother Marcus Tongue, 14, for example, were at the center with their father, a firefighter, to help out with the lunch hosted by the Kent Fire Department.

“These guys love military stuff,” said Greg Markley, pointing a thumb to his boys. “I wanted to expose them to a veteran.”

Caden and Marcus both asked questions throughout the presentation and said they were excited to get started on the book.

“I want to get reading that book to see what it’s all about,” Marcus Tongue said.

“It’s just a reflection of my experiences,” Boyd said of his book. “It’s a story that wasn’t supposed to be told.”

For more information or to purchase a copy of “Codename Litefoot” visit www.codenamelitefoot.com.


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