Oregon Marine hopes to reunite other local Vietnam veterans
When Howard Boyte arrived in Vietnam in 1968 — the same year as the Tet offensive — he quickly discovered what he was getting into.
Amid sweltering heat and humidity he recalls seeing the adjacent plane next to his being loaded with the body bags containing U.S. Army soldiers and fellow Marines.
A 1965 Tigard High School graduate, Boyte also recalls the smell of burning diesel oil that was used to incinerate human waste in latrines and how he had to quickly learn the difference between what "friendly outgoing" artillery fire sounded like versus "enemy incoming" fire.
Stationed at An Hoa, which was a major arterial of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Boyte was attached to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
"When you're in combat, it's better to be lucky than good," Boyte said. "Combat is a matter of luck."
Tigard was such a small community in the late 1960s that Boyte can list almost all of those Tigard High Vietnam vets who were injured and killed or suffered from what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder who all lived where he did on Tigard's 100th Avenue, stretching down to Omara Street.
The first time Boyte was injured he suffered shrapnel wounds to his right shoulder, left knee and right arm. He still has pieces of shrapnel in that arm.
"I walked the squad into an ambush," Boyte said. "I was the point guy."
He recalls that Navy surgeons at the Da Nang Hospital used wire stitches to suture his wounds. Several weeks later, his stitches would fail and became infected.
And he still remembers that it was Doc Bruce Gant, the ranking Navy Corpsman, who airlifted him after the ambush and helped him with the failing stiches.
"Forty-three years later, Oct. 19, 2012, Echo Company had a reunion at the Marine Base, Quantico, Virginia," said Boyte, who rose to the rank of corporal during his tour of duty. "Doc and I reconnected. He remembered the ambush because of the multiple casualties (four Marines killed, eight wounded) and the death of his good friends, Lt. William Jones and radio man Lance Cpl. Randall Choate."
Boyte described his reunion with Gant as being pretty emotional for both himself and the corpsman.
Boyte said many mistakes were made during the war including casualties by U.S. ordnance or what's often referred to as "friendly fire."
"Our unit was napalmed twice by our jets," Boyte said.
While he hasn't returned to Vietnam for a visit like some of his fellow Marines, he said he holds nothing against the Vietnamese people.
"The issue for me is I don't hate these people. … Why the hell are they shooting at me?" he remembers thinking at one point while in Vietnam. "We invaded people we shouldn't have."
For his service, Boyte received the standard medals many Marines received. In addition, he received a Purple Heart, awarded to soldiers who are wounded or killed during battle.
Boyte said it took a while for him to turn against the war; he did so after coming into contact with his critical thinking skills.
"The biggest mistake America ever made is the Vietnam War," said Boyte, who now lives in Scholls. "The lack of studying history and critical leadership has drug us into some real messes."
He said the Ken Burns PBS documentary "The Vietnam War" got what happened during the Southeastern Asia war correct.
Today, Boyte, along with fellow Vietnam veterans Gary Chamberlain and Mike Miles, are trying to locate as many Tigard High School Vietnam veterans as possible.
And not only them but the entire extended family of those connected to that war — including everyone from wives of Vietnam veterans, family members and even those students who were protesting the war — in an effort to create a "portal" to record and memorialize stories. Then the group hopes to eventually hold a reunion for all those involved.
Boyte would go on and work for the Portland Fire Bureau from 1974 before leaving as a deputy chief in 2000.
Today he's CEO/partner for Walking Point Farms LLC. Walking Point specializes in custom fertilizer blends and has expertise in finding government contracts.