of brother killed
Mary E. Sansom
||Ruth Ann Maynard of Winfield treasures the
bronzed combat boots worn by her brother, Roger Byus, who was killed in the Vietnam
Photo by Robert Saunders
After 30 years, a Winfield, New York woman has retraced the final footsteps of
her 20-year-old brother killed in the Vietnam War.
Ruth Ann Maynard until three weeks ago knew only the sketchiest details concerning the
death of her younger brother, Roger Byus.
She still remembers that day after Thanksgiving in 1969, when a U.S. Army officer came
to the North Poplar Fork home of her parents, Alma and Junior Byus, to tell them Roger had
been killed in action Nov. 24.
A week or two later, his commanding officer sent a letter saying he had died at a base
hospital, but revealing little else.
A half a year later, his personal effects arrived, including his combat boots. Their
father, who died in 1981, searched far and wide for a company to have them bronzed and
finally found one in Chicago to do the job for $75. At the time, the company said the
boots were the largest shoes ever to be bronzed, a one-of-a-kind monument weighing 20
In time, Maynard contacted the Army chaplain for details about her brothers
death, but the chaplain had not known Roger personally.
For three decades, the family knew only what Rogers tombstone told them, that he
had been a member of the 11th Armored Calvary.
Then along came the Internet, giving Maynard access to the Veterans Memorial
website, where she posted what little she knew about her brother in hopes of finding more.
Kind-hearted veterans, seeing it, directed her to the website of the 11th Armored Calvary,
where she encountered Jim Murray of Pennsylvania, the liaison between the unit and the
family members of KIAs, the call letters to refer to those killed in action.
He asked her if she would consider attending the reunion of the 11th Armored Calvary
Blackhorse Regiment, which was in Vietnam from 1966 to 1972 and lost 767 men. He promised
her she would find all the answers to her questions.
Murray never left her side at the Aug. 3-6 reunion in Buffalo, N.Y. On Thursday, she
didnt meet anyone from Rogers unit, but on Friday afternoon, a man walked up
to the registration desk and Maynard felt an immediate spark of recognition.
It was the weirdest feeling. I looked at him and he looked at me. There was a
link, and I felt it. He read my nametag and he reached out to me and said, I knew
Roger. I was with him when he was killed.
Maynard burst into tears, as did the stranger with whom she felt the immediate kinship,
Gus Christian of Tennessee.
She and Christian sat down to talk, but he said he wanted to wait for another man to
arrive that evening. Together, they would tell her everything.
When Kenny Ricord arrived from Michigan, Christian introduced them, and Ricord
immediately excused himself.
When he returned, he told her he had been dreading for 30 years the day he met a family
member of one of the men in his troop. He had not known that Maynard was coming to the
reunion, and by her very presence, a woman alone and not the wife of a veteran, he knew
she came in the stead of a dead soldier.
The three sat down together, and the two men told her the story she had waited so long
to hear. They said Roger wasnt with his platoon when he was killed near the Quan Loi
base camp in war zone C near the Cambodian border, where the Blackhorse Regiment, the
Armys elite armored division, was stationed.
All three had been in the 2nd Squadron E Troop, but they were in the 1st platoon and
Roger was in the 3rd. They had contact with the enemy every day, and the 1st platoon had
taken several losses and was down to 16 men.
They were low on men and asked for volunteers. Roger volunteered to go with the platoon
that morning, something Christian had never understood.
They said they were on dismounted patrol, meaning they had climbed out of their tanks
and were on foot. They could hear the enemy in the elephant grass, which was so dense and
thick that they couldnt see into it.
Then the sergeant, they assumed, called for mortar to be fired to hit the Vietnamese.
They said there was good mortar and bad mortar. Good mortar could be heard and meant it
wasnt coming towards them. If they couldnt hear the mortar, it was a bad sign,
and meant the mortar was on them.
They didnt hear the mortar coming, so they hit the ground. The mortar fell short,
hitting the very center of the 17-man platoon and leaving no more than five capable of
One man, who had been in Vietnam three days, was killed instantly. Another man, whose
arm and leg had been ripped away by the explosion, was still conscious.
They said Roger tried to get up, but they made him lie back down. Ricord said Roger had
a wound in his back the size of a quarter. With no medic in the field, Ricord took gauze
and dabbed at the wound.
Then medical helicopters arrived to evacuate or dust off the injured and
the dead, taking them to base hospitals.
Ricord said the men who remained never knew what had happened to their comrades after
they were taken away in the chopper. He said they never really wanted to know and hoped
they all made it.
He said he never knew Roger was killed until Gus told him I was at the
Later that night, Don Middleton of Florida arrived. He was on the mortar tank that
fired into the unit. Maynard was not ready to meet a man who might have been responsible
for Rogers death by friendly fire.
Middleton said the men fired the mortar as told, but when the sergeant had called in
the coordinates telling where to fire the test round, the sergeant had reversed the two
sets of numbers with tragic consequences.
A military investigation found that the sergeant had indeed reversed the coordinates,
and three days later, he was removed from the platoon.
But the sergeant was supposed to protect the lives of all those men he held in his
hands, Maynard told Middleton, wanting to blame someone.
But Middleton had been there, and he could perhaps more easily put himself in the
He said, Bear this in mind. The families of these men have lived with this
loss for 30 years, but if the sergeant made it out alive, hes lived with his mistake
for 30 years.
Crying, he apologized.
Maynard reassured him that she did not blame him for Rogers death, and she
realized she finally felt at peace.
At the memorial service for the Blackhorse Regiment, Christian carried Rogers
heavy bronze combat boots, which had been on display the entire weekend and had brought
tears to the eyes of many a veteran.
Roger would have worn his pants legs tucked into the Size 11 combat boots, with the
extra length of laces wrapped a couple of times around the top, which is the way they have
Under the coppery patina, which has traditionally preserved the white lace-up baby
boots worn by past generations as they took their first steps, but which have fallen out
of favor with parents today, signs of wear are evident.
The insteps are crumpled and the heels worn down, the left more so than the right, to
the point where a womans fingers can slide beneath.
The combat boots are mounted on a round wooden plaque, with a metal placard bearing his
death date, Nov. 24, 1969. He served in Vietnam one month and one day.
The familys grief seems to be summed up by a single, heart-wrenching phrase:
In memory of our darling son.
We found out later he had told so many friends he wouldnt be back,
said Maynard, looking at faded 3-by-3-inch photos with the date September 1969 along the
The photos show Roger in his uniform, Roger in a brown suit, Roger handsome in a white
T-shirt, putting clothes into a black traveling bag placed on the bed, smiling slightly
but not at the camera, as he goes off to war.
He was killed on my daughters fourth birthday. He sent her a cross on a
necklace and a mud-stained letter, and he said he never wanted her to forget him. She said
the necklace and the letter are her two most-prized possessions.
These boots are cherished in our family. I told one of my brothers, as long as we
remember and our children and theirs, he will never die. Whenever we see these boots, we
Reporter Mary E. Sansom can be reached at 348-4840 or by e-mail at email@example.com
(Reprinted from Metro West, Putnam County Community News dated August 23, 2000)