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You don’t win a Purple Heart: You earn it.
And, rare is the man who wants to earn one.
Still, those that have done so are in a special class: They’ve taken one for the team and have the scars to prove it.
Roy Scott is such a man.
A Forest resident (Boonsboro area), Scott earned a pair of Purple Hearts in Vietnam.
Recently, Scott and a number of other local Purple Heart recipients got together at Lynchburg’s Monument Terrace. The gathering brought together those African-Americans who have earned the distinctive award.
Scott, whose entire family comes from Bedford County, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966. He went on active duty in 1967. Given that things were really starting to heat up in Vietnam around that time, some might not think that signing up was the wisest career move.
Au contraire, mon frere. “It was the best thing I ever did,” said Hall. “It made me grow up.”
Following basic training at Parris Island and infantry training at Camp Lejeune, Scott began studying avionics at Millington Air Station, near Memphis.
Well, there’s not much opportunity for color-blind marines in the world of avionics, what with all of those green and red wires. So, the Marines decided to make him a forward observer, calling in artillery strikes.
He began doing just that when he landed in Vietnam in February, 1969. He also went on patrols as part of Mike Company 3/7 Marines.
During one clash with the enemy, Scott took shrapnel to the leg. That wasn’t enough to fully sideline the warrior, but it was enough for him to earn his first Purple Heart.
August 20, 1969, is a date Scott is unlikely to ever forget.
On that date, Mike Company was on patrol. “We walked into an ambush of two or three companies of (North Vietnam Regular Army soldiers),” he recalled. “They had the element of surprise on their side.
“We were looking for the enemy, and they found us,” he said ruefully.
“I was raising my rifle when I was hit in the armpit by a guy who jumped out of a spider hole,” said Scott. “He was just a little faster than I.”
When the fire fight was over, the results were devastating. According to Scott, Mike Company had nine Marines killed. “I don’t know how many were wounded,” he said.
Here’s an indicator. MEDEVACs started moving the wounded at 2:30 p.m. that day. Scott, along with 10 other wounded Marines, wasn’t shipped back to a medical facility until 6:30. “There were six or seven choppers before ours,” he recalled.
“I was just trying to do my best that day,” Scott said. “It was a hard day, and I got through it.”
Two days, later, doctors discovered that Scott had malaria. “I had it; I just didn’t know it,” he said. “That was more life-threatening than the (gunshot) wound.”
After stints at a military hospital in Guam and Walter Reed Medical Center, Sergeant Scott was medically discharged.
“I’m glad I’m back,” he stated. “That just wasn’t my day,” he said of August 20, 1969. “Or, it was, in some respects.”
He moved back to the area, where he spent 33 years working for the U.S. Postal Service.
Now retired, Scott has the time to meet with his fellow Black Purple Heart recipients.
“When I first got out of the service, (the Purple Heart) wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “Nobody talked about it.
“In fact, when I got out, people said not-nice things about us and to us about Vietnam veterans.”
And today? “One of the things I’m so grateful for is that soldiers coming back are honored: That’s a big thing I like.”
And what about honoring the Black Purple Heart recipients? “I’d rather they honor all Purple Heart veterans. Black or White, it doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “I guess that shows I’m an old Marine.”
Yes, he is. And truly a color-blind one.