Larry Roy on Point

Medic first met Larry Roy on LZ Compton in late 1969 or early 1970. At seventeen, bright, cheerful, confident, not more than 5′ 8″/130 pounds, in high school he played golf, and played well, he said.

That same day, in a bomb crater, I helped Larry assemble the things he would carry in his new Alice pack: canteens of water, C-rations, ammo. Not long afterward, Larry Roy became point, and excelled at that too.

Point: on an infantry patrol every grunt has his job, regular grunts, their packs freighted with food, water, ammo, walk with their M16s at the ready. The machine gunner, spangled with cartridge belts, braces the 26lb weapon across his shoulders. The RTO lugs the equally heavy PRC-25 field radio on his back. The medic carries his aid bag of bandages, and first aid supplies in his pack. The M79 man’s multi-pocketed vest holds the fist-sized shells for the stout shotgun-like weapon which fires one round at a time. Each job is a waking nightmare, but the point man-who walks first in line, his heart pounding, sweat pouring down his straining face, his five senses hyper alert to any hint of an ambush–the point man’s job is worst of all.

Once, as two platoons fired wild volleys at three NVA, as Larry Roy tilted an M79 on its stock, firing its oversized shells like mortars, before the captain stood up, took careful aim, tumbled the enemy down–the happy-go-lucky 6’2″ RTO panicked and hid himself behind a tree. When he emerged–smiling, as if all was right–several men surrounded him, and Larry Roy, enraged, pounding his small fists on the tall man’s chest, cursed him loudly. “You fucking coward,” he sneered. “Fucking coward.” The obedient RTO stood silent and took it.

And once, taking a break on patrol, after Larry Roy, Bieck, Rudy, and Mike had placed a half dozen slim logs lengthwise for cover, as I was settling down to a C-ration can of tropical fruit, Joe Dorio, keeping guard in the jungle twenty meters past the perimeter shouted, “Gooks! Gooks!” and pell-mell sprinted back to us. As Joe took cover I saw a running blur and shouted, “Is that one of ours?” “No, you idiot,” said Joe, and I shot at it, likely missed, and they shot back.

It happened quickly: from behind the mud thick roots of an upturned tree I watched the four grunts, laying prone behind the logs, repeatedly raise up, fire their M16s, duck down. Rudy fired lethal bursts from the M-60. Suddenly Mike yelled, “Doc, look to the left, they’ll try to outflank us.” A brief lull, then came the dreaded click, Mike shouted “GRENADE,” a wood handled Chicom sailed through the air, exploded in front of the machine gun, twisting the barrel in half, dust and dirt filtering down. Seconds later the AKs erupted, the grunts angrily cursing the NVA as they fired back. “Doc, toss me a grenade!” shouted Larry Roy. I chucked him one, he threw it, and BOOM, we thought they were dead. Moments later a second Chicom landed between the grunts, who scuttled to where I crouched and threw themselves on top of me. The blast seemed to lift us up, drop us down, Mike, the last on, getting it worst. After the medecvacs carried the wounded away the captain and Larry Roy reconned a blood trail; found a GI helmet and human meat.

And once, after a long patrol I nearly killed Larry Roy. He was sick, and asked me to treat his sore throat, his headache and bellyache. Nearly killed him with care.

Fast forward fifty years. Larry Roy has done well in life, with a satisfying career as a PGA pro and sought after golf coach.  When we spoke by phone in ’98, he’d found god; now he does god’s work. He is as bright, cheerful and confident in 2019 as when we first met quite some time ago.