Roger Loftis interview Billy Henderson
Rev 2 (08/01/12)
I knew Roger and some of his family back when I taught school in England. My reason for interviewing Roger was to get him to tell a portion of his life story. I am so thankful that I did.
Billy: Where did you live in the England area?
Roger: We lived in several different places around England. Most of the years was spent in one little house down on the south end of main street which was called “Peanut” street. That is where the pavement turned to gravel. We lived in a pink three room house. No running water no indoor plumbing, no television and no refrigerator. We were poor by any means and standards. It was hard for us to go to school; we had no one to wash our clothes. We had a big 3′ deep by 3′ wide cast iron pot that we would fill with water and build a fire around it to wash our clothes and bathe. My daddy and mother were divorced for most of our formative years. So we didn’t have parents around us much. We had three different step mothers while we lived in that house and they didn’t last very long. So we were by ourselves most of the time.
We were running everywhere like a bunch wild animals all over town doing whatever we wanted whenever we wanted to. Everything was an adventure to us. We had to take care of our own clothes and things. When it came to going to school, living in that situation, it didn’t take us long to find out that we didn’t have the clothes that it took to wear to school. We didn’t have money for lunches. We would take peanut butter and crackers for lunch (or nothing) when we had it. I guess I was in the third grade before I really got a good picture of how we looked to everybody around us. I mean, I was old enough to know, but just didn’t want to believe things were as pathetic as they were.
We had a play in the 3rd grade that I can’t forget. It kind of opened my eyes. And I believe the third grade teacher was Mrs. Hagerman, and she had a daughter named Elizabeth Hagerman. Well, we put on a school play and I played the part of a character named “Poor Dead Roger”. I think I got that part because my name was Roger. The play had a little dance like a square dance where we had to change partners. When it came my turn to dance with Elizabeth Hagerman she took her index finger and thumb and she pinched them on the top of my shoulders and danced with me around the circle with a look of disdain on her face while she did it. I didn’t like her pinching my clothing rather than placing her hands on my shoulders. She did not care that my feelings were hurt. That was the first time I realized that we didn’t measure up to everybody else. The next incident that confirmed it was in the 6th grade. My 6th grade teacher, Ms. Hale, took me to the classroom door, left it half open, called another teacher, Mrs. Hicks, from across the hall. Then Mrs. Hale grabbed the shoulder of my shirt and held it to my nose, and asked, “do you smell that”? All I could think of at that moment was, how many and which of my classmates heard and saw the incident. From that point on I knew what was going on. I knew what I looked like, I knew what I smelled like. I knew what I had and what I didn’t have and it put a chip on my shoulder. You may not remember me as a fighter but back there in England I fought everybody who wanted to fight and there was plenty of them back there. Joe Wayne Luke was one of them, Larry McElroy was one, Ronnie McPhearson was one of them, Wayne Dove was one of them. I fought everyday from the 6th grade to the 12th grade. It didn’t matter who they were. All they had to do was look at me wrong and make fun of me or my family and the fight was on. I had a lot of trouble getting that chip under control.
I think it took the Army to get rid of that chip when I got drafted. I think Vietnam took care of that chip. I was known for fighting and now I was about to get plenty of it in the war. I fought for my brothers and sisters if someone made fun of them I would take up for them. As my oldest sister was getting to dating age so to speak I kept all the young men away from her. I didn’t think anybody that was friendly to us was good enough for her. I didn’t want her mixed up with what a lot of those guys there. They were friends of ours, they were poor people but not as poor as we were. At least they would have something to do with us when most other people wouldn‘t. But even so, I didn’t want them dating my sister; I knew they weren’t good enough so I would threaten them to keep them away.
I had many a fight over my sisters. Danny Ray Powell was the first, I never will forget it. One day, downtown by the Laundromat. I told him to stay away from my sister Linda or he and I were going to tangle. He was about a foot taller than me he took his fist and smashed my lips together. I looked like Daffy Duck for a while. I reached behind me on a window sill and grabbed a Barqs root beer bottle and hit him in the side of his head and knocked him down and beat the heck out of him then. Ned Wimberely the town Chief of Police, was right across the street in the little Police shack. He came running over to me and grabbed me and slammed me up against the wall and skinned me up. He told me him and I would be fighting soon, and he would show me what fighting was all about. He tried and failed. Life was nothing but a battle for me.
All my family, except for Linda, started playing hooky. Linda got an award for not missing a day from the first grade through the sixth grade. She got a letter for that accomplishment, and she still has it. On the other hand, me my brothers Gerald, and Danny were playing hooky all the time. Lots of people might have thought we were not that smart in school because our grades were not that good. I thought we were second to no one because when we went to school we could do anything anyone else could do.
As a matter of fact your wife (Ms Cissy Henderson) taught me math and I loved that. Thanks to her, I was as good at that as anybody was. I played hooky so often. I couldn’t keep my grades up, but I learned what Mrs. Henderson taught me. She paid no attention to my dirty clothes or my smell. She taught me well, even more than math. She made me start to believe that there were some good people in my world and started me on my way back to giving people the benefit of a doubt again. If we had had clothes and food and the things we needed to go to school we could have done as well as anybody. Anybody around town would look at the Loftis kids and say “those kids don’t have a chance”. I said it myself several times, three little boys and two little girls, what would their future be. I knew what everybody thought of us. There was a class difference of people back then. It was well pronounced it was everywhere we went. No one thought the Loftis kids would get through high school and no chance to go to college. Ned Wimberley (the Police Chief) told me I would be in Reform School any day now. As a matter of fact when we went to court they decided to take the kids away from dad. Early 1965 I believe it was. Well the judge asked me, because of my age I guess, did I want to go to a foster home or stay with dad. I would have the clothes I needed and food and go to school like a normal person. I would get what I never had in life before, a chance to get an education and have a chance. I told the judge no, “I wanted to go back home”. My dad was standing up there crying he said he had done the best he could do. That broke my heart. The judge said, “Ok, you can go home Roger.” I was glad to see my brothers and sisters get what they needed, but figured I didn’t need anything. I figured my life was already cut out for me, one way or another. When Ned Wimberly heard what the judge said he jumped up and said, “Your honor if you don’t make him go to this home I will have him in Reform School within 90 days, I guarantee you.”
Billy: What happened next?
Roger: I started getting blamed for everything that was stolen in England, and everything that was broken into. I did my share of stealing pecans you know the Swaims over there by the school they were great people but at three o’clock I would be in the top of their pecan trees because I was hungry and needed something to eat. I stole pop bottles and pecans. But I did not do anything on God’s green earth any worse than that. I am still ashamed of what I did, and I’ll live with it forever. It wasn’t right even if my family was hungry and needed it.
I could have asked for help, but there would be no end to it. I am sure someone would have done something for me but it would have only been a temporary fix. I did some things I shouldn’t have done, like fighting and stealing pop bottles and pecans. I wound up with a bad reputation. Everybody thought Roger Loftis was going to end up dead or in prison. When I went to my high school reunion some said they couldn’t believe I wasn’t in prison or I wasn’t dead. One guy said, “I remember you, you used to fight until you were tired then climb the flag pole to rest or wait for the bell to ring.
Those kids I went to school with, they don’t remember anything good about me but they act like we’re friends, and we all get along like real good friends. I don’t know what they really think deep down inside about me but I know they respect me. I respect them and we get along just like we were always the very best of friends and nothing could have been farther from the truth. I fought them and their whole families and their cousins, even out-of-towners.
Billy: What happened next?
Roger: I left school when they split us up to put us in the foster home pending a court date. I was 15 years old just turning 16 when I left. I was in my second year in the seventh grade. Wesley Payton sat right in front of me and Linda Green sat on my right. I got a paddling because I put a half a bottle of whiskey in Ms. Gibbins desk drawer one morning that I had found on the way to school. I was trying to think of something to do with it. I said, “I will just pull a joke on Ms. Gibbins”, so and I put it in her desk drawer. She comes in that morning and opened the drawer up and there is that bottle and she freezes as she looks at it. She walks down the hall and gets the other teachers they all come in there, Ms Hicks, Ms Henderson. They all look around the class. It was comical to watch. I grinned at Linda Green(the principals daughter) she asked “do you know what is going on?’ I said yeah I know what’s going on. Then I made the mistake of telling her. She wouldn’t give up until I told her. Immediately, she raised her hand and said “I know who did that.” Then she told them. They went and got John Green, the Principal, He took me upstairs and gave me a paddling he said you probably deserve (5), but I’m giving you (3). He’ll never know how stupid and humiliated I was because I really respected Mr. Green. I even admired him.
Wesley Payton sat right in front of me he turned around and did something that made me mad. It was in March and I was barefooted. I started going barefooted in March and went barefooted until school was out. I was sitting there and Wesley Payton turned around and said ’ha ha Roger got a whipping.” I took my left foot and kicked him in his eye and put him in the middle of the floor. You were busy at your desk and you said “what’s going on back there?’ Wesley was getting up and you said, “What happened?” Wesley said, “Roger kicked me in the face.” You came back and got me and backed me up against the blackboard and said “who do you think you are? I won’t tolerate this kind of stuff in my classroom.” You didn’t paddle me, you didn’t take me to Mr. Green and you told that if I ever did that again I would get two paddlings. It humiliated me to make you mad. Coach, you remember I didn’t have clothes to dress out for P.E., I just wore my pants and took my shirt and shoes off. I think I was the only one in there that did that. That also humiliated me every day.
Billy: You were telling me about your dad when you were moving took five kids and left two. How did that fit in?
Roger: We had moved from Lonoke to England. I started to school in Lonoke in the first grade. I went through the first semester and we moved in December to England. Right around the corner from John Green. We only lived there about six months. I turned seven years old then. All of a sudden out of the clear blue sky dad put five of us in the car and left the two youngest on the front porch, sitting there naked. We started down the road real slow, it was a gravel road, and we were in an old 46 Ford, we might have been going five miles an hour. I won’t forget that as long as I live. I tried all kind of ways to understand what my dad had done, but never came to terms with why. I didn’t see either of them again until I had turned 18 and had been drafted. I wanted to see them before shipping out to Vietnam.
Billy: Who took care of them?
Roger: They actually got to go and live with their real mother. Things turned out ok, they got to grow up with their real mother. At that time Danny my youngest brother and my youngest sister June didn’t know who their real mother was or what she looked like. They just knew they had a mother somewhere. When the people at the welfare home asked them if they would like to go visit their mother they were tickled to death to go even though they had no picture in their mind of their real mother, what she looked like, her personality, etc. They didn’t know what to expect. They went and they stayed with her until they grew up. For the most part, it wasn’t what they expected because she had two other kids and another husband. They only halfway fitted in for a long time. It was tough on them. The youngest one in my family suffered in life. Mentally, they all had to have suffered. They are not crazy but they had a load that I don’t think I could bear. I don’t know how I would have any type of personality where I could get along with anyone if I had to live my life the way they did theirs at such young ages.
God blessed me for being the oldest one and gave me a chance to look after the younger ones and learn something. I don’t know why or how I turned out like I did when I consider all the fights and other stuff I got into.
As we drove off I asked dad why aren’t we taking Mike and Pam? They were on the front porch naked because they didn’t have diapers. The family couldn’t afford diapers. One was not old enough to walk and the other was just barely old enough to stand up. Dad told me, “I can’t take care of more than five.; five is all I can handle,” he said it and he was dead serious about it. I could tell he wasn’t in a talking mood. I didn’t push my luck because he had just as soon hit me as look at me.
Billy: Was he physically mean to you kids?
Roger: My brothers and sisters used to tell me that they thought dad almost killed me with the whippings that he gave me. He would whip me with heavy duty commercial extension cords, limbs and broom handles and things like that when I did something I wasn’t suppose to do. I don’t think my dad was mean to me. I have memories of my dad carrying me on his shoulders and taking me fishing with him. Showing me how to find a bee hive and get the bees out of it. He didn’t do things like that with the rest of the kids. Probably because I was the oldest, and less trouble. I wouldn’t be in the way and I could keep up. Even when he went to visit relatives I would be the one to go with him
So I always thought my dad was good to me. The only bad part about my dad was his hitting my mom. I knew that was wrong and I hated it when he hit my mom. She was sick and he didn’t have sense enough to know it. He didn’t have any business hitting a woman in the first place. I can’t tell you how many nights us kids lay awake in bed while they fought. My real mother never said nothing but we could hear him hit her. But the two step mothers that came along afterwards, they would hit him back and they would yell, scream and cuss all night long. We are talking about a small three room house that doesn’t have three doors just walkways from one room to the next. You could hear every whisper. So we could hear everything they said to each other and we would listen to that all night long and that was pretty often.
I am really proud of my brothers and sisters. If anybody ever went through hell while being raised those kids did. I don’t see how any kid could go through anything like that. I knew everybody in England Arkansas because, like I have said, I ran wild in that town like all of us did. And I know no one had it like we had it. As I have said we didn’t have a refrigerator or television. We didn’t have running water, didn’t have a bathroom. Only an outside bathroom. We had nothing. Our windows were broken out with tin nailed over them. An old wood stove with the stove pipe running right through the tin in the living room window. No insulation just a tin roof house. One of the pictures might tell how it might have looked. It was pretty bad. So, running wild was better than being home.
Billy: Once you got through all that, I know you served time in the military, you went to college was that after Vietnam?
Roger: That was after Vietnam.
Billy: Where were you when they drafted you?
Roger: I was in England when they sent me my first notification it wasn’t an official draft. It was a letter saying you will be drafted within the next 24 months. They drafted me the 28th of July 1967
Billy Were you 18 when they drafted you?
Roger: When they drafted me I was 18 but I was 17 when I got the first letter. They said if I wasn’t in college or this or that I would be getting a draft rating. They were trying to prepare me for what to look for in the mail, I don’t know. But the drafted me ‘67. I was inducted July 28 ‘67 as a draftee. I wasn’t sad about it I thought it was an opportunity for me. IF other people can get something out of the military maybe I could find some way of making a living from the service. If I could find the right kind of school to get into. Believe it or not when they gave us that battery of test I did well in mechanical electrical and even the general the one that had math and English I did better than high school level. I really hadn’t finished the seventh grade. I know the scores were high because of Cissy (Mrs. Henderson’s working with me)
Your wife was one of the greatest teachers. She took extra time and effort with me. I learned whatever she taught me, and I was thinking the things she taught me would at least qualify me for the military. I thought the military might be my opportunity. All I had to do was keep my nose clean and if anybody can do this military thing I can. I wasn’t thinking to myself that Vietnam was going on and it might get bad. I ran into my dad one day, I wasn’t living at home, he said I am worried about you getting sent over there in that war, you could get killed. I hadn’t really thought about it. After he said that, I started giving that some thought. I started analyzing what might happen to me and starting trying to prepare myself for what I was in for. I was always trying to keep my spirits up. I said well they drafted me, but I will probably get a different type of job. They will probably make a truck driver out of me or mechanic or supply sergeant or something like that and if they don’t do that they won’t put me in the infantry. I kept a high degree of optimism.
They will probably send me to Hawaii or Japan or one of those nice places. Everybody doesn’t go to Vietnam. I didn’t know it then but only 6% of the people who went to Vietnam actually saw combat. It was just my luck, as soon as I get out of basic training; they send me to infantry school. I still hadn’t given up hope. I had high hopes. I was standing in line when I was graduating from infantry school, and I still thought that I would get orders for some kind of job doing something else. They handed me my orders, orders which said “Roger Loftis, infantry, Vietnam, 196th Light Infantry Brigade”. At that point, I began to lose all hope of getting out of the bad stuff. I knew I was in for the biggest fight of my life.
Billy: What happened when you got to Vietnam?
Roger: So when I got to Vietnam I stayed around there for three days of orientation on a beach in a secure area. There was no front line just a secure spot here and there. They talked to us a couple of days. Then I got on a chopper on a real dreary day (it was in the monsoon season). We were going out through these clouds and up into these mountains then all of a sudden we dropped down on top of a hill and I swear it looked like a hundred yard diameter circle of graves dug about 12 feet apart, with ammunition and supplies piled all around (ammo & c-rations). That is what it looked like. The troops had their shirts off and were so tanned, they looked like Hispanics! They were milling around those foxholes they had dug to fight from. They set up every evening like that. And at the bottom of the hill there was a pile of dead bodies. They were in the act of resupplying after finishing a battle. When I saw that scene unfolding while I was coming down out of the clouds, it was like a dream to me. I thought OH NO! What have I got myself into! When I saw all those weapons piled around and the bodies and things. I knew at that moment I was in for hell, and that it was what it was for 12 months over there. I never thought I would get out of that place alive, ever, not for a second.
I prayed every second I wasn’t doing something else. I was the best person God had over there. I was afraid to take a picture of a body although I have some here. I didn’t make a joke out of it in any way or take it lightly. I didn’t want God angry with me for anything.
Billy: You saw combat, up close?
Roger: I shot the enemy with my weapon up against him. That is how close I got. I killed with my bare hands, I choked one to death with my rifle barrel against his throat while the barrel burned my hand. I killed them with their own weapons. I shot them in the back while they ran through us. I only respected POW’s. I would not stand aside for no combat man except for a POW. Nobody saw it worse than I did. I have a real bad temper today when I hear somebody telling war stories that are obvious lies. It takes me but a few seconds to know if a man is bonifide or not. When I was young I would walk up to a guy and hit him or threaten him. Because all I would think of was the dead that lay around me and those that tried to keep me alive, and those I tried to keep alive. People who lie about combat disrespect all those who gave limbs and live for his brothers.
I saw combat as bad as it can be. Period. I didn’t see it often but often enough. My record indicated I had about 239 days of combat. That is an awful lot of combat. I went through four different phases of battle operations. I went through that Tet Offensive, and everything that was going on then. People fighting everywhere. I couldn’t have seen anything worse than that unless I died a horrible death.
Billy: Did you come out of it kind of mentally scarred? You know a lot of them are on disability and have problems but you seemed to have come out of it pretty good.
Roger: Yes, I was scared, scarred badly forever. Luckily, the VA takes care of its combat Veterans. I guess I’m lucky as far as that war goes, but after all I had just been through, when I returned from Vietnam, and deplaned, I was cussed, cursed, called a baby killer and a war-monger, and hit with golf balls, rocks and sticks. My own country treating us that way was unforgivable.
Billy: I remember you telling me on the phone that Vietnam wasn’t as bad as growing up in England.
Roger: Well, I was being a little facetious. Yeah I think growing up in England did help prepared me for Vietnam. Because of all the fighting I had done and sleeping out in the ditches and all that kind of stuff. When I stepped off that chopper in Vietnam to me it was just a camping trip at least that part of it was. What I wasn’t prepared for was the horror of what I was about to see. I had seen people shot in England and people stabbed in England and I had hurt some people pretty bad in some fights. I thought I had killed a couple of people before. But I was just not prepared for what I saw there. I mean when you see a rib cage with no heart in it. Or a body torn completely in half. The horrors, England just couldn’t prepare me for that.
Remember, in school, they said the intestines are about 12 feet long. Believe it or not the intestines are about fifteen to twenty feet long. I am just trying to give you some idea of what I saw. When I told you about the intestines, I was talking about the time I shot a Vietnamese soldier. He was about twenty five feet away and I shot him with what they called an M79 grenade launcher. It looks like it is a bullet about two inches in diameter and four or five inches long. The bullet explodes upon impact. I shot him in the center of the chest, and it blew him open and he went backwards and all his insides were strung out. It doesn’t really bother me to tell you that right now. There was just nothing to it. Although I realize when I think about it how horrible it was. I mean the smell, the look. Even at that moment, I was beginning to worry if combat would affect me mentally but, I didn’t have time to worry about it. That was just something everybody had to do and just keep going.
I said, ‘ what kind of monster is this going to make out of me?’ Because after this I won’t fear anything and I won’t fear what happens in my life or whether I live or die. But that is not how it turned out for me. Vietnam made me appreciate life. It made me realize just how feeble a human life really is and how easy it is to extinguish it and what it is worth. So it taught a me just the opposite of what it taught a lot of other guys. Most of the guys over there were boys just like me. They turned into animals they would kill women and children for no reason. I told them in my squad if you shoot a woman or child I will shoot you. I had two Puerto Ricans in my squad and every time we got into a fire fight I had to have those two in front of me because they were going to kill me; because of my threat to them. In a fire fight they would not need an excuse. I told all the other guys around me about that and they were all on my side and they helped me keep them in front of me until the company commander transferred them out of there.
Billy: After that, what did you do once you got home? Did anybody meet you when you got home?
Roger: When I came back from the war, I returned to, “The Bradford’s” home where I was living when I got drafted. I remember as my cab drove me out to the Bradford’s country home, I looked out across Crowley’s Ridge and thought, man, I could just walk right out there, and lay down and go to sleep, and no one would harm me!
I received my draft notice in Forrest City – forwarded from England. I had left England to visit my aunt and uncle for a few days in Forrest City, AR. While I was there, my aunt asked to me to stay. Well, she had two kids at home and a disabled husband to feed and care for. I knew she couldn’t afford to feed me too. So I got a job at a filling station. I offered her money I made, but she wouldn’t take it. Then, suddenly, The Bradford’s (the people I worked for) said, “Roger, when you go home this evening, we’ll drive you. We want you to come and live with us. We’ll get your stuff and you come stay with us. I can’t tell anyone just how much I appreciated that. Eight months after I was living with and working for them, I got drafted.
The Bradford’s sent me Kool-Aid, cookies, gum, vitamins, etc. A package every month. When I came home from Vietnam, I still had some military time to do, because I had re-enlisted while I was there to keep my next younger brother from having to go to Vietnam. After all, I had the best chance of survival after having been there long enough to know how to stay alive. He would have had to last for three months. Most men died within the first couple of months. So I didn’t get to stay home (at the Bradfords) but one week, and then on to Ft. Sill, OK to continue my enlistment. I didn’t get enough time with real people and a normal life, immediately upon return, which I needed desperately. That was very hard on me.
Billy: What was the next thing you did upon reaching your next duty station?
Roger: The first two things I did, was get my G.E.D. and start college. Then I met my first wife, 17 years old with a two month old son. I went out with her for a month or two. Then one day I started thinking about how the Bradfords had taken me in, helped me, and took care of me in Vietnam. I was thinking of honor. I was thinking of how I needed to do something honorable to pay back what I had been given by the Bradfords. So, I married Ruby Howard to give her son, Mike a father and a chance in life to be raised well and taken care of. Some thought I was nuts, some thought it was not very wise. But, Michael honored me in a way few others receive honor.
I didn’t have enough money to adopt him but I finally saved up $5,000 we went to court to do it when Mike was in the third grade. The judge was talking to me, to him and to the lawyer. He looked at my son Michael and said “does your dad ever whip you?” I was getting nervous then because I had whipped him. Michael looked up at the judge and said, “Yes sir.” He was quiet for about two seconds and the judge was about to open his mouth when Michael said “but only when I needed it.” He put those words out at just the right moment. The judge looked at me and said “Mr. Loftis, it looks like you’ve already raised this young man. The judge said to my lawyer, “Mr. Lawyer there won’t be any charges for this adoption, right”? I would have gladly paid, but didn’t have to pay a dime.
Billy: You had told me your wife was pregnant with this child when you married her. You knew she was pregnant and you knew that the child was not yours but you thought it was the right thing to do?
Roger Yes she had him a month after I met her I wasn’t dating her then but later I started going out with her.
Billy: Then what? You’re now were married and have a wife and a baby to support. Did you go to school right off?
Roger: I was still in the army and had a time commitment to them. (My re-enlisting to keep my brother out of Vietnam) So when I got back from Vietnam and met my wife, I still had time to do in the service. When I first got back I went to Lawton Oklahoma, I got my GED, I took the ACT test and passed it and then went on to Cameron College. Once I got three hours I got hungry, I wanted more. So I kept going. When I went to Europe I didn’t think they had a college over there but the University of Maryland had a college that catered to the military and they had all kinds of classes on base. And I started working on that degree. That degree opened doors for me. I got shipped back to the United States and I was at the University of Tulsa in Mechanical Engineering I was in my last Semester and Lloyds of London sent some people in there to interview some people and ask if anyone was interested in a career? Not a job, a career. They wanted engineers and I couldn’t figure out why an insurance company would want an engineer. I filled out an information card. I graduated and went home. Two weeks later I was laying in bed watching television and had just found money to buy a frame for my degree and it was on the wall and I was staring at it. I had a GED right beside it. Education tickled me to death because I thought I was going to grow up and be a tractor driver. I was so happy I wasn’t going to be a tractor driver on some dusty farm.
I looked at those degrees and said I have made it. I don’t even have a job and I have made it, because I now have as good a chance as anyone else. Suddenly, the phone rang, and it was Lloyds. “You ready to go to work Mr. Loftis?” “Yes I am ready. They said how would you feel about flying to Boston and meeting us? If you are offering me a job I’ll go. I thought I was going to have to pay for the trip. He said “we will pick up your plane ticket, rental car, meals and whatever else you need. They flew me to Boston and gave a two day long test. When we were finished they called me in there with a group of people they said “we would like to offer you this position. I quickly accepted the offer and went back to Lawton, Oklahoma, as happy as I could be. My salary was four times what most people were making. They also issued me credit cards and a company car. Then I said, “I’m rich!” The salary was high, but that was an English company and they paid a lot better than US companies. I never dreamed anything like that would happen to me. I stayed with them for 23 years and retired when I was 50.
Billy: What happened when you retired?
Roger: One day while driving home from a chemical plant, I decided to retire and reap some of the benefits. I had a cell phone, a great big one, that was when they first came out. I called the office in Boston. I said “can you have a replacement down here for me tomorrow?” Oh, sure Roger we can work that out. They asked if I was going to take a vacation? I said I am going to retire. There was silence on the phone. They said “You can’t retire you have to give us at least three months notice. They asked, why you want to retire at fifty years old. I said just send me my money, I am retiring. I’ll finish out the day and I will help you next week if you can’t get anybody in here to take care of these engineering projects in the works. I will go make sure they are right until you get a man in there. I will do it for a week or two. Yeah the customary two weeks. I haven’t looked back. I enjoyed it. I hope to keep on enjoying life.
Billy: Now you have a new wife, how long have you been married?
Roger: We have been married ten years.
Billy: Where do you live?
Roger We live in Benton, AR. My family, brothers and sisters all live around Little Rock.
Billy: Let me kind of summarize it. You grew up England along with your brothers and sisters. You came up hard and tough. Your brothers and sisters ended up in a foster home. You stayed home and through all that. You all survived and made it and all of have college degrees, good jobs, good salaries, good retirement and coming from where you were to where you are now is remarkable. All of you are good looking kids and smart. Good people. I don’t know how you could ask for a better ending to a life than that. That is the part that really excites me is the fact you turned out so well for the chance you had, actually you had no chance. Would you agree with that?
Roger: I would agree with that I think it was a miracle or God just picked us up and carried us.
Billy: You had something inside you that said I have to take care of my brothers and sisters.
Roger: We all had something inside us that made us pick ourselves up. We all wanted to be better than what we were. That is why I wrote that poem. England was a terrible place to grow up in, yet a child, no matter how bad things are, can still find laughter and fun and top it off with beautiful memories.
Billy: Thank you Roger for telling us your story.
Roger: I love your wife for the type of person she is and was to me. She didn’t have to, and no reason to think it would do me any good to keep me ahead of everyone in math. She’ll never know the good she’s done, or how much it is appreciated.
Infantryman – Baptized in Fire
Fate made me one of those which others did not want to be. I went where others fear to go, and did what others failed to do.
Up and down the mountains and across the valleys both high and low, and through the jungles where the rivers flow, I had to go. Where the only reward was to stay alive for another day….
I could have lost my life, others did, but I did not. Some fell wounded with screams that sounded… in human. Others felt the fatal wound as the bullet tore and seared. And as I slept, I tossed and turned, and dreamt of what I feared, and awake only to remember that tomorrow it’s my turn to walk point.
I asked nothing of those who gave nothing, and reluctantly accepted the sentence of eternal sorrow and loneliness should I fail.
I have seen the face of terror, and been humbled by the cold stinging fear of death as it was transformed into daily and nightly entertainment, and enjoyed the tender sweetness of a moments love.
I have pained, cried and hoped, but most of all, I have lived times others would say are best forgotten. I often wish for a simple piece of mind, and a little understanding as I try to forget that which is best forgotten.
Infantryman, 196th Infantry BDE., D-CO., 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, 2nd Platoon, 2nd Squad Vietnam War, December 1967-December 1968