As Veterans Day approaches, our hearts go out to the families of our soldiers serving at war. Our thoughts are drawn to the sacrifices of our young men and women overseas. Our memories flash to the past, of the stories of our fathers and grandfathers.
Within these next stories, our grandfathers tell of a time of action, adrenaline, death, grief, triumph, pride, humor, and duty.
“Are you sure this is my son?”
Samuel Boynton began his tour in Korea by making the Inchon Landing on September 18, 1950 as part of the F Company 32nd Infantry Regiment 7th Division (better known as the Hourglass). He was immediately involved in the fighting. Boynton recalls: “After making the Inchon Landing, we made an attack on South Mountain. The North Koreans hit us resulting in twelve dead and twelve wounded. We crossed the 18th Parallel about seven times back and forth. The 7th Division was the most traveled division of the Korean War from 1950-1951.”
Upon returning from Korea in November 1951, Boynton was assigned to Escort Detachment at Brooklyn Army Base, Brooklyn, New York. He escorted remains of K.I.A. (Killed In Action), east of the Mississippi. Prior to his first assignment, Boynton attended a two week class on what his duties would become. His job was to meet the N.O.K (Next Of Kin) and the Funeral Director; fold the flag; and arrange for the firing squads with Military and American Legion Guards.
“Everyday I had to read the bulletin board at least two or three times. The names would be posted that many times a day.” On the day of Escort, Boynton would wear his Class “A” uniform with a black armband. “I would go down the stairs to the shipping dock, check the name of the soldier, rank and service number,” says Boynton. The remains would be placed in a Military Ambulance and taken to Grand Central Station to be escorted home. “That’s when the hard part began,” recalls Boynton.
“I remember the first time I escorted a soldier home. It was my hometown of Fall River, Mass.” Upon reaching the soldiers town, Boynton would first meet with the Funeral Director and deliver a copy of the orders. Then, together, they would meet with the N.O.K., “The mother and father, sometimes it was only the mother,” says Boynton. “It didn’t matter where it was: Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan or Ohio. It never got any easier. The look and those words will always be with me, “Are you sure this is my son?”
“I considered it an honor and privilege to escort these War Heroes into the loving hands of their parents.”
Years later, Sam Boynton found himself serving in a similar capacity during Vietnam. On September 18, 1965, he was sent to Vietnam and assigned to the First Air Calvary Division located in the “Tea Plantation.” Boynton recalls, “Our medical tent and grave registration was set up. When the choppers came in, we unloaded the wounded, then the K.I.A. Sometimes we had to go on a search and recover mission, looking for missing G.I.’s. With four on a team, our helicopters would fly into the jungle. Most of these missions brought more remains into the grave registration.” All remains were processed through Saigon, where identification through medical records could be made. Then they would be shipped home to their families, where someone else would answer the question, “Are you sure this is my son?”
Sam Boynton left Vietnam after four tours in March 1969 and retired from active duty a month later.
Thomas Huntsberry, Teenage Warrior
Thomas was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, on March 13, 1932. He was the youngest of thirteen children. His family held a history of military service, and he was not going to miss his opportunity to follow in his brothers’ footsteps.
“Three of my brothers served during World War II, one in the Army, one in the Marines, and one in the Navy,” says Huntsberry. He attempted to enlist at the tender age of fourteen, but was fifteen before he succeeded.
Thomas says that he had to convince his parents to go with him to a notary public to sign an affidavit stating that he was 17 years old. “In 1948, the Army was taking anybody that was breathing, so with the affidavit, I didn’t have any problem enlisting,” tells Huntsberry.
Sworn into the Army on January 1, 1948, Thomas was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training. He was assigned to Company H, 3rd battalion, 11th Infantry Division. “I applied for paratroop training during basic. The sergeant looked at me and said, ‘No way are yougoing to be a paratrooper. You are under-age, and I know it, and you know it!’ Then he asked, ‘Do you want to stay in the service?’ I replied, ‘I certainly do!'” Huntsberry fondly remembers.
After basic, he was sent to the Panama Canal Zone, where he remembers that Panama was undergoing unrest due to an election. He says that during guard duty, his friend was nearly shot. “It was a dark night, and the light was out in the guard shack. My friend lit a cigarette, then sat down immediately. Just as he sat down, a 30 caliber round struck the door frame where he had been standing. We were so scared that we never bothered to shoot back. It was a good thing the lights were out because they would have shot us for sure,” relays Huntsberry.
After returning home for emergency leave, Thomas was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky until he was discharged on January 1, 1950.
“I returned to Baltimore and joined the 445th Combat Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army Reserves. In October 1951, we were activated into the Army. Two other reserves and I were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, as guards for a plane load of fourty-four prisoners who were being sent to Korea. These men had been in the stockade for desertion and for being chronically AWOL. Our orders were to deliver them to front-line units in Korea.”
In 1953, Huntsberry was preparing for an invasion of North Korea, when he learned that an armistice had been signed.
Shortly thereafter, he returned to the States with an honorable discharge. Not wishing to let go of the family feel of the Army, he became an integral part of his local Honor Guard.
Wild Boar Hunting
Towards the end of WWII, Vincent Chinchello, Jr. found himself at Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, as part of the 972nd Signal Service Batallion in the U.S. Army Signal Corp. Underground, the Signal Corp was responsible for maintaining all the Army communications on the island, maintaining all the Army signal equiptment throughout the Pacfic Theatre of Operations, and served as the main link between the Pacific and the Mainland. As there were no infantry troops on the island, a provisional regiment was formed in case of an emergency which never arose. “I was one of the lucky ones,” says Chinchello.
Besides learning how to climb coconut trees (barefooted), he recalls the time the guys went wild boar hunting on the island of Maui. “I fired all eight rounds at him and the guy behind me was laughing!” The boar finally fell ten feet in front of Chinchello. When teased as to the fact that he killed the boar with the first few rounds, Chinchello responded, “I knew it and you knew it, but HE didn’t know it!” The boar was wrapped in palm leaves, buried in a pit of coals, and left to cook the rest of the day. Chinchello says, “I would have never guessed how tender and delicious it would be.”
Note: Vince J. Chinchello, Jr. served in the Regular Army from 1946-1948 and again 1956-1960
Two Tours in Vietnam
On November 16, 1966, Kenneth Wheat joined the United States Army. He went from Fort Ord, California to Fort Gordon, Georgia (for infantry training) to Fort Benning, Georgia (for Airborne training) to Vietnam, all in less than six months.
Assigned to the 9th Infantry Division in the Me Kong Delta, he was a part of the Moblie Riverine Force. In the army just over one year, Wheat was wounded by an enemy force of Viet Cong. The date was December 4, 1967. For that mission, he received The Silver Star for Galantry in Action. After being treated for his wounds at Camp Zama, Japan, Wheat returned to the same unit in Vietnam.
When his first tour in Vietnam was completed, he returned to the United States and became a Military Policeman in Fort Ritchie. After getting married in 1969, Wheat was sent to Germany for one year and then re-enlisted for Vietnam. His second tour of duty was with the 18th Engineer Brigade. Two years later, he returned to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
His assignments included Arlington, Virginia; Korea; and two tours in Hawaii. Retiring on January 1, 1987, he went to work at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he works to this day.
Note: In addition to The Silver Star and a Purple Heart, Kenneth Wheat has been awarded over fifteen medals for his service to this country.
A Purple Heart
“I was shot on March 1, 1970 in the town of Tay-Ninh, Vietnam.” It was April, 1970, and as William Czyzewski lay in his hospital bed at Walter Reed Medical Center, Washington, D.C., he learned the whys and the whats of the day he was shot. “We were cleaning out the area, just before the Americans made a push into Cambodia.” The day is still vivid in his memory.
“I was supposed to go in R&R that day, but I got bumped. We were busting jungle, looking for the enemy. In tanks. We came across a bunker complex. It was the Hilton of bunker complexes. Cement tops. The Captain said, ‘ One man off each tank get down and check out the bunker complex.’ I had an M16. I looked to the right of me, there was a man. There was a man to the left of me. I looked down and there was a beaten path. I couldn’t go anywhere, so I walked down the path.”
“My basic training came back to me, I knew you don’t go down a beaten path, but I couldn’t go anywhere. I had guys to the right and left of me. I started down some steps. I looked down to the left and saw chickens in a pen and smoke from a fire. Just as I turned my eyes in front of me, I saw the muzzle flash.”
“A guy was in the bush. They left a sniper. Just as I saw the flash, I was hit high in the left leg. I went down hard. I heard my mother’s voice telling me to lay there and be still, real still. I was bleeding hard. I laid there until all the fighting was over, then I hollered out that I was hit. A guy from another tank picked me up like a sack of potatoes and threw me over his shoulder and took me out of the jungle. I heard he got a Silver Star for doing that.”
“Next thing I remember, I was laying on a stretcher. Looking up in the sky, I could see the medical helicopter. I heard him on the radio saying that he was getting shot at with 51 caliber fire. I heard the Captain say, ‘ I don’t care, you come down and get this guy or we’ll shoot at you!’ He came down and the guys put me in the chopper. The guys put my booney hat and my pillow, I always had my pillow, they put them in the chopper with me. This guy patted my shoulder and pointed, I lifted up and looked out and saw the mountain and he pushed me back down. My hat and my pillow fell out of the chopper when he did that. I lost them both. They’re somewhere in Vietnam to this day.”
After being unconscious for 48 hours, he woke up in Long-Binh, a Vietnam hospital. He was transferred to a hospital in Japan before finally ending up in Walter Reed. William Czyzewski was medically discharged in February 1971.
After six years, Czyzewski’s leg had to be amputated. He says he’s had his sense of humor through it all and that being on the Honor Guard is his way of repaying the veterans for what they have done for him.