Honoring those who served

Roy Boudreaux, of Kerrville served in Vietnam in the Air Force in an air rescue and recovery squadron.

Those willing to give their time and talents to the U.S. military stand as examples of strength and determination for the rest of Americans.

Roy Boudreaux

Roy Boud-reaux was the youngest of four boys growing up in rural central Louisiana, outside Alexandria, sons of a U.S. Army veteran, and even more relatives who also served in the U.S. Military.

And all four brothers also chose to to serve their country, each having long careers in the U.S. Air Force. Leroy, the oldest, became Roy's mentor when their dad died when Roy was six.

“I never consciously made that decision,” Boudreaux said, “but at the end of four years in Europe, I thought I had a pretty good deal; and then I got eight years in college paid for by the Air Force, and I was already halfway there, so I stuck with it.”

He was trained in munitions for the first third of his career, he said; and then assigned to the Professional Military Education facility as a professor for 13 years.

“Then I got the best job in the Air Force. There were 10 'Air Commands' and a general over each one; and each of them had 'advisors.' And I got picked to be the 'senior enlisted advisor' to one of them, with a rank of Command Chief Master Sergeant.”

That was at Air University Headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.

He described the job as “representing the troops to the general; and the general to the troops.”

He had that job for more than five years, serving three generals in succession – though he didn't expect to be asked to stay on when the first one was reassigned, and the second one was gone, too.

He said for overseas assignments, he was sent to duty stations in Taiwan, Vietnam, the Azores, and Germany.

In Vietnam in 1965-66, Boudreaux was stationed at Bien Hoa as a member of a 38-man Air Rescue Team, Detachment 6 Air Space Rescue Recovery Squadron, and flying on missions in H-43 helicopters.

He said in the United States, the same helicopters have been used as “airborne fire trucks.”

In Vietnam they were used to rescue troops, he said, but also to stand by at landing fields when a plane was coming in damaged or had “hanging bombs” or other possible fire danger when landing.

“There was a big canister on a pad at the runway called a “suppression kit” and a helicopter would pick that up and in the air get close behind the plane trying to land, in case we needed to fight a fire with the hoses on board.”

He especially remembers his best friend there, William H. “Pitts” Pitsenbarger, who was always confident about their missions, except once.

“That one time, he was getting ready to go, and said, 'I don't feel good about this one.' And he left and got into a heavy firefight, and was killed in combat.”

Boudreaux said Pitts was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor, but for some reason it was downgraded to the Air Force Cross.

His friends fought to make that right, he said, and 34 years later Pitts was awarded his Medal of Honor posthumously.

Boudreaux was married during about 20 of his years on active duty, and has a grown son and daughter.

“My son and daughter describe themselves as 'devoted military brats' and grew up to well-rounded, adaptable people. And they credit the military for that,” he said, “but neither of my children chose to go into the military.”

He said he was unaccompanied in Taiwan and Vietnam, but took his family all those other places.

“I traveled widely when I was in Europe.”

Boudreaux retired from the Air Force in 1992.

He has some watch-words based on his experiences. “'Bloom where you are planted;' also 'lead, follow or get out of the way.' But I also believe you have to learn to follow before you can lead.”

He said he's enjoyed more success than he ever dreamed possible; and when one of his generals asked him what he owed his success to, Boudreaux told him he felt “like a turtle on a fencepost. You don't get there by yourself.”

Cheryl (McCall) Bunyard

Cheryl Bunyard of Hunt said her family in Columbus, Ohio, was supportive of her joining the military in 1973; and while she originally considered the Navy, it was an Army recruiter who gave her the aptitude test that charted her course for 26 years of service.

“He said I scored well, but he was vague about jobs,” she said. “When I met with the Air Force recruiter and took another test, he said he didn’t really have a job slot either. But he put me on the pay records of Air Force Reserves for an earlier ‘date of service.’ That helped when I was retiring.”

Boot Camp involved a lot of getting yelled at right in her face; but her aptitude for mechanics was rare. She described growing up more a tomboy, and even though this was during the Vietnam War, she decided if she couldn’t get assigned to a Navy carrier, she’d join the Air Force to work with airplanes.

She said she watched or worked with her father on cars and various mechanical projects growing up.

She was first sent to San Antonio for Basic Training.

“I thought it was good I wasn’t assigned close to home, though I missed watching my little sister grow up. It was a good thing in the end.”

After experiencing room inspections, and kitchen patrol at the chow hall, another test showed her same aptitude for mechanics; and she was assigned to Chanute Air Base, Rantoul, Ill., for jet engine mechanic school. She was about the 12th female in that training.

Upon graduation she requested Wright Patterson Air Base, Dayton, Ohio, to be nearer home; and instead was ordered to George AFB, Victorville, Calif. She asked again and was told there were no female restrooms in the jet engine shop at the Ohio base, and she couldn’t be sent there. But she found the same situation in California, she said.

In addition to working in the jet engine shop, Bunyard volunteered for the base honor guard.

“We marched in parades with M1-Garand rifles – I always liked parades – and I was on a rifle team that gave funeral services for the military victims from Vietnam,” she said.

The units in the parades were judged on drill routines, she said, and even though she was required to wear a “dress uniform” skirt and be careful about kneeling and other movements, her unit often won trophies.

Before she left California, she was told a colonel there ordered her supervisors to document anything she could not do, because he didn’t want women in the Air Force maintenance career field. Her shop supervisors never told her about that.

Okinawa, Japan, was her next station, and “I had to start from scratch, all over again.” And again, over time the men realized she was a good mechanic. She was assigned to the team that fine-tuned engines for top performance; and eventually placed on flying status.

After two years, she was transferred to McGuire AFB, New Jersey; and following that station, she re-enlisted and got to choose her next assignment. She chose Nellis AFB, Nevada, because the Thunderbirds “Air Force Demonstration Team” was stationed there and she wanted to get on their maintenance team.

“Not long after, the Thunderbirds had an opening for a jet engine mechanic for their T-38 aircraft, and I turned in my application and immediately got an interview,” she said. She was selected as a team member, and after her 30-day trial period, got her own Thunderbird patch to be sewn on her uniform.

During air shows, teams of mechanics would drive to the end of the runway and check out each plane one last time; and while flying from airport to airport or a show, a mechanic would ride in the back seat of each T-38 in case of mechanical problems that had to be fixed enroute.

Once a pilot (not the number one commander) offered her a chance to fly only with the throttle and rudder while over the ocean going to Puerto Rico for a show.

Bunyard said the Thunderbirds were a group of seven numbered planes, six performing the shows, and the seventh the spare piloted by a male and maintained by an all-female crew in case it was needed in a show.

“It’s very competitive to get on that Thunderbird team,” she said. She worked with them for two years.

She was sent to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, alone for one year, leaving her also-military husband in Virginia. Then they were reunited at Langley AFB, Virginia.

In August 1989 her unit was put on alert to possibly go to Kuwait, but she was told to stay to help get as many engines repaired for shipment to the Mideast as possible. Later when the U.S. went on the offensive against Iraq, she got orders to go to Saudi Arabia. She dealt with Saudis who don’t like to deal with women by sending her second-in-command; worked with British mechanics; and learned to wear and maintain chemical protection suits.

She and one other woman volunteered to stay behind an extra two weeks, when their unit returned stateside at the end of the war, to be sure all the base’s equipment went on cargo planes to return to the U.S.

Bunyard said she was divorced about a year after the Gulf War, and then assigned to Lakenheath AFB, England for three years, followed by Kelly AFB, San Antonio. That’s where she first put her new EMT training to use with Shavano Park VFD, where a part-time volunteer job led to fulltime firefighting jobs.

Bunyard said she meant to stay on military duty the maximum 30 years, but stayed 26 years, and left military service in 1999. She’s remarried to Hal Bunyard, and volunteers for Hunt VFD in addition to a paying part-time job in Kerrville.

Her “pearls of wisdom” include, don’t let others’ negativity drag you down or make you give up. Give 110 percent in everything; and this will not only give you self-pride but eventual notice by those who appreciate what you are doing. “Help others to succeed; we all need peer support to get by in life.”

Lillian M. (Southern) Beard

Lilly Southern was a native of Florida and Mississippi when, after high school graduation, she had no funds or prospects of attending college. She and a girlfriend talked about joining the U.S. military together under a “buddy system” where the duo would go to basic and advanced training together and be stationed at the same place.

Beard’s father was a retired career Navy man, and forbid her to follow him into the Navy and end up on a ship with 5,000 men. She had chosen the Air Force and was still not 18. So she continued babysitting to earn money; started entry paperwork and tests, and waited.

It took months; and she changed her choice to the Army. She learned her friend didn’t get permission from her parents to enlist and continue the buddy plan. Beard entered the Army at New Orleans anyway, January 1973, and flew to Atlanta with other female recruits to report to Ft. McClellan, Ala.

“Everyone in our barracks the first night seemed to be crying,” she said.

Basic training began with lessons about uniforms, inspections, and life with female superiors. Beard said she already knew how to keep her shoes highly polished, because she used to polish her father’s, to his satisfaction; and that earned her some compliments. But she also learned not all Sergeants were alike.

She graduated from Basic, and was sent to Ft. Dix. New Jersey, to take advanced training to be an administrative assistant. She graduated second in that class by close decimal points and got promoted to E-3, a Private First Class.

Beard said they got seven days leave and then she had to fly to Anchorage, Alaska; and report to Ft. Richardson, Alaska.

“Here I was, a southern girl from Florida and Mississippi who had never seen snow, and they send me to Alaska!”

And, she added, she had not yet gotten a driver’s license, either.

When the plane landed, no WAC was waiting to take her to the base, as promised.

“I saw a formation of about 20 guys with a couple sergeants. I was very shy then, but I forced myself to go to one of the sergeants and explain my situation. He didn’t know what to do with me either; and said it was Friday at the start of a three-day weekend. He called the post but no one was there to help.”

He agreed to take her to the post, but few people were still on duty. When she got there, a military couple with a 1-year-old girl were about the only ones around, she said, and they were leaving in their travel trailer for a weekend campout and invited her to join them until the following Tuesday.

“No one explained Arctic summer sunshine until I was yawning after too little sleep and trying to stay awake until it got dark,” she said. “They sent me to bed – after 1 a.m. – and let me sleep late the next morning.”

Beard said she and her new roommate in the barracks were the first two women to be assigned to the 172nd Infantry Brigade; and surprisingly all the guys seemed glad they were there.

The uncomfortable part was the two of them walking into and out of the mess hall, when every man stopped talking and eating, to watch them. They ate bologna sandwiches in their barracks for more than two weeks, and stayed out of the mess hall entirely, until their commander started their meal allowance early and they could buy different food at the commissary.

“They couldn’t decide what field gear to issue to us, so we didn’t get any at first. Several months later when Cuba and Russia started acting up, we were told to pack up our files and desks, and everything was packed into running trucks in case we had to go into the mountains for safety,” she said. “The guys were in fatigues, and Paula and I were in our nice dress uniforms.”

She said they got the all-clear sign, unpacked everything; and three days later the two women were issued field gear, too.

“I learned not to be shy, to speak up for myself. I gained confidence about doing a job very well and being a productive part of the team. I definitely learned to stand on my own two feet and get along with the majority of people I came in contact with.”

In one office, her desk was by a large window, and she saw her first falling snow. She said her reaction, to go outside and throw small snowballs at nearby windows, made others laugh. Later when she bought her first car and had to test for her first driver’s license, it was in the middle of winter there. She passed that, too.

Beard met her first husband there in Alaska; and though they agreed not to start a family for a few years, they were expecting a baby three months later. She extended her enlistment to be on active duty when the baby arrived in the Army hospital in January 1976. She had planned to make the Army her career, but family circumstances led her to decide to leave the Army in March 1976, soon after their son was born.

She’s married now to Mack Beard and they retired to Kerrville.

Her “legacy” for young people is to show them that being kind to one another, dreaming “big” and working hard to achieve their dream, they can “shoot for the stars and work to get there.”

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