Published 6:00 pm Sunday, May 29, 2011
Memorial Day is a time to remember, and he’ll remember hisservice until the day he dies.
His name is Tom Boyte, and he served for two years in the UnitedStates Army during the 1950s. His hope is that people will rememberthe sacrifices – not only on Memorial Day, but every single day -that all veterans make.
“I want people to just listen to a veteran,” said Boyte, 83. “Wejust like to know people hear us.”
Boyte has many stories to tell of his short but busy Armycareer. He served from 1952-1954, the time the United States wasembroiled in fighting on the Korean peninsula.
“They call the Korean War a conflict, but it was definitely awar,” he said.
The war ignited around June 1950 after the North Koreancommunist government attempted to invade and force communism on itssouthern neighbor. The United States rushed to the aid of SouthKorea, while the Chinese moved to assist the north.
“The communist north invaded the south, and we got involved,”said Boyte.
The result was a short but bloody war, with tensions thatcontinue to this day between the north and south occupants of thepeninsula. The war formally ended with a cease-fire armistice thatwas issued on July 27, 1953, although heavy fighting continued fora few years and still breaks out from time to time.
Boyte, a Lincoln County native, was there in the height of theaction.
“That letter in the mail got to me,” he said, referring to thedraft that was in place during that time.
When he was drafted into service, Boyte was almost too old. Hewas nearing the midpoint of his 20s, but was drafted into serviceanyway.
“I was older than most of the other soldiers,” he said.
After being drafted, Boyte left behind his wife of six years,Mary, and headed to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training.
“I headed out to Tank Hill, the fort’s nickname, for basic,which was 16 weeks long,” said Boyte.
After completing basic training, he was shipped out to service,assigned as a part of the 304th Signal Battalion, 8th Army. He soonreceived “temporary orders” to report to the 22nd Signal Group,which was where he spent the remainder of his time in theservice.
“I was pretty much an all-around handyman,” said theveteran.
His duties were various: he served at times on a photographycrew, delivered ammunition and served as an aide to hiscolonel.
“I hauled ammunition after a while of just doing anything,” saidBoyte.
Those ammunition hauls were often terrifying ordeals for him. Hespent many nights in foxholes, curled up and hoping for thebest.
“If he didn’t get his ammunition unloaded in time, he had tosleep in a foxhole,” said Mary Boyte, who’s now been married toBoyte for 62 years.
Boyte did the best he could to fortify the foxholes, but heslept there in full knowledge that a hand grenade could be droppedin the hole at any time by the enemy.
“I was always afraid of that,” he said.
All of his duties weren’t as scary, though. He was able to meetcelebrities ranging from Bob Hope to President Dwight D.Eisenhower.
“I met Bob Hope’s plane when he came to Korea, and I filmedhim,” he said.
Although he has good memories of Hope, his recollections aboutEisenhower aren’t as fond.
“Eisenhower, who we all knew as ‘Ole Stoneface,’ didn’t talk toanyone except the people he needed to,” said Boyte. “I never sawhim smile, either.”
His time in Korea also allowed him to meet then-Vice PresidentRichard Nixon, who he said was a complete opposite ofEisenhower.
“Nixon stopped and talked to everyone and was always smiling,”he said.
He also served side-by-side with future celebrity Gene Shalit,who recently retired from “The Today Show” as their movie and bookreviewer.
“He was our unit’s mailboy,” said Boyte.
Shalit also had a nickname for Boyte during their servicetogether.
“He called me ‘Papa-san,’ which is what the Koreans call theirolder men,” he said with a laugh. “Remember, I was older than mostof the other boys.”
During his service, Boyte was known not only for his eagernessto do any chore, but also for his feistiness.
“I almost got court-martialed once for telling an officer what Ithought about the food,” he said. “And there was the time I almostshot a lieutenant.”
He said the lieutenant, “who wasn’t too bright,” tried to sneakup on him while he was on duty.
“He thought he’d catch me on duty asleep,” said Boyte.
The lieutenant instead found a fully awake soldier who wasvigorously manning his post and watching for the enemy.
“I made him put his hat on the ground and show me the name onit,” he said. “He thought he’d find me asleep, but he was the onewho was almost put to sleep permanently!”
Even with his feisty spirit, Boyte still earned the trust of hiscolonel, a Colonel L. Murphy, of Dallas, Texas.
“He liked me,” said Boyte, who is currently working with aresearcher to find out what happened to Murphy.
Because of the close trust between the two, Murphy sent Boyte tocarry a generator to the sight of the July 1953 cease-firearmistice.
“I took the generator up there so they’d have lights,” hesaid.
As a result, Boyte got to witness history as dignitaries fromthe Korean states, China, the U.S., the United Nations and beyondsigned the armistice.
“I was there,” he said.
He’ll always remember his time in Korea, and he’ll keep tellinghis stories. He’ll also keep telling people about the men who werelost there.
“We lost a lot of good men,” he said.
If it’s up to people like him, those men’s faces – and theirsacrifices – will never be forgotten.
“People have to remember this because it’s our history and itcan’t be forgotten,” he said. “That’s the whole point of MemorialDay.”