Almost from the day in 1998 when newly retired Jerry Boyd and his wife, Debbie, moved from Alaska to their 3½ acres on the Tum Tum River in Blodgett, Jerry was an active part of his new community. He joined the Summit Grange, where he organized the quarterly road clean-ups. He volunteered for many other Summit events and instituted the safety committee for the annual Summit Festival.
Jerry soon gained a reputation as someone who could be counted upon to get things done. His quiet presence inspired respect.
What many who got to know him did not know, however, was that his gentle demeanor hid a troubled spirit, one that still was dealing with his time as a Marine during the Vietnam War. Though many people in the community called him friend, few of them knew about his military background.
Jerry joined the Marines in 1963 as a gung-ho 17-year-old from Mississippi. In 1966, after earning the rank of corporal, he was sent to Lima Company 1st Battalion, 7th Marines in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He served 15 months, achieved the rank of Sergeant E-5, before returning to the U.S., where he found a less-than-grateful reception.
For almost 40 years, afraid to dredge up old memories and fearing the reaction of others, Jerry kept his service and combat experiences to himself.
It wasn’t until the start of the Iraq War that Jerry started having symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The new war dredged memories of Vietnam and he thought, “Here we go again ... ” To deal with his emerging emotions, he started writing poems. He had written a few in the past, but this time they started pouring out.
He showed his poems to very few people. Friend and fellow Marine Frank Dancer of Philomath was one of them. When Frank’s neighbor, poet/writer Judy Hays-Ebert, read one of Jerry’s poems pinned to the wall in Frank’s home, she knew she wanted to meet him. This led to an article on Jerry and the healing power of his Vietnam poetry in the May 12, 2010, edition of the Philomath Bulletin.
Jerry credits Judy for encouraging him to collect his poetry and prose into book form. She helped him to complete the project by the end of 2010. The book chronicles his journey from young, untried Marine to seasoned combat veteran, and the toll it took on his psyche.
In his mind, one of the most difficult aspects of his experiences was coming home.
As he writes in “The War Returns”:
The ones who have seen war;
And felt its costly toll;
Should be the first in line;
To speak for the whole.
It took some time before Jerry could put the book out there, however. He was reluctant to divulge so much of his past to his community. Finally, however, at the 2011 Summit Summer Festival, he took several books and a pair of boots he had worn in Vietnam and placed them in the art show at the Center.
The feedback from this debut has led to second and third printings.
We salute Jerry’s courage in sharing his past with us. The book, “The Eagle Flies On: Poems of a Vietnam Vet,” is a tribute to the healing power of writing. It has had a positive impact on many, and he would like to share with any others who are interested in his journey and who might need help along their own. He can be reached at email@example.com or 541-453-4229.
Nashville resident Kathi Downing can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 456-4252.