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Aikin Home » Harvill Journal » Legion of Honor

Legion of Honor

Posted 08.10.09 at 11:08 AM

There have been many “perks” in my job as the PJC archivist over the years, mainly involving people I have met, many of them veterans, but last week I had the great privilege of interviewing Terrell Boyd concerning the June 2009 trip that he, his wife, Dorothy, and their sons and daughters-in-law, Gary Boyd, Craig and Maudie Boyd, and Alan and Sherrie Boyd, made to Colllville-sur-mer at the special invitation of the French government for Terrell to accept the Legion of Honor for his service to France during World War II. In short, Terrell landed at Normandy on Utah Beach and survived to return home, wed Dorothy in 1950, and raise three fine sons. Terrell has also been blessed with the means to return to Normandy several times in his 87 years, drawn back always to the cemetery where many of his friends lie buried, a scene familiar to many of us from “Saving Private Ryan.,” which Terrell says he has yet to watch after hearing his sons describe it. (It took me several attempts to watch it through to the end.)

One of the many celebrities that he met at the ceremony in France was Tom Hanks, and he has many pictures to prove that he sat and conversed with Tom Hanks several times. There they are, and Mr. Hanks appears to be hanging on Terrell’s every word.

Many of Terrell’s vivid memories of “how it was” bring tears to my eyes, but he has his emotions firmly under control. In doing my “homework” before this interview, I learned that one of the invited survivors actually died the night before he was to receive his medal. Critically ill, he had made the trip, nonetheless, and “did his duty,” as he saw it. To hear Terrell tell about it all, you’ll have to come to the archives and see the tape, which is having its edit right now. I can tell you, though, that Billy Brown, who did the taping, hung on his every word, as did I, and a couple of hours had passed before we even knew it.
It was extremely moving to me when Terrell brought out the Legion of Honor, which is a fairly small medal (what had I expected?), but oh, my, what it symbolizes! I’ve heard from visitors to Normandy, besides the Boyds, tell about how the villagers and citizens of the small towns come out and welcome them. They may have forgotten in the cities, but the “country people” haven’t forgotten the Nazis.

I think about our own young folks, too. I’ve read that they don’t “connect” as well to the World War Two era as us old folks do. I wonder if they believe that Terrell Boyd saw parachutists hanging shot dead tangled in tree limbs on his torturous journey inland. I really wonder sometimes, but I pray that they do believe it all happened the way that he and other veterans say that it did. Could it happen again? It happened once worldwide.

Of course, Terrell taught for 27 years in what became the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, training many disabled veterans in his demanding craft. He was cited for this work by the President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped in 1961 and inducted into the PJC Hall of Honor in 1996, but for me, his greatest achievement in life was to climb that beachhead at Normandy. I don’t have many heroes in this life, but Terrell Boyd stands at the top of my list.

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