OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Roy Pearce was born and raised in Okeechobee, and was drafted into the Army after high school. He went to Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training and then was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., for Advanced Individual Training as a truck driver. From there, he went to Fort Campbell, Ky., and that was where his company was formed, he said. It was a new company and they put all the men together there and then flew them all to California, where they got on a ship.
It was the longest 22 days he ever spent, he said. He did not get seasick, but a lot of guys did. They stopped in Okinawa overnight to fuel up and were allowed to get off the ship, but they couldn’t go very far. They just got to walk through part of the town. They were on a troop carrier, and there were 5,500 men on board not counting the men to operate the boat. They loaded all their trucks and equipment onto a train in Fort Campbell and it was sent on ahead, so it was all there before the men ever arrived, he explained.
Mr. Pearce had not been out of Florida much before he went to Vietnam. He’d been to North Carolina twice where his grandparents lived, so the culture shock was huge. The country over there was filled with rice fields, and it was very wet, he said.
He was within 62 days of getting out of there when he was shot, he said. It went through his right knee joint and in below the knee on his left side. His company was by itself in a little village, so they took him to Bien Hoa by jeep, and if it hadn’t been for a mess sergeant who put tourniquets on his legs, he would not have made it, he said. After they patched him up, he was sent to a hospital in Japan and then to one in the U.S. He lost his left leg and only has partial use of his right leg, he said. He spent two weeks short of a year in the hospital.
He was sent to a hospital in Fort Gordon, Ga., and thought they were never going to let him out, he said. They made a rough draft of a leg for him, and told him if he learned to walk on it, they would finish it, and he could go home. “Two days’ time, I was walkin’,” he said. “I wanted to go back to Okeechobee.” But, he rubbed a blister on the bottom of his stump, and they took his leg away from him. “A lot of boys in the hospital felt sorry for themselves and just lay in the bed, but I never was thataway. I couldn’t do it. I’d get me a wheelchair and run the halls,” he said.
They kept piddling around, he said, and telling him the leg was not ready. “I got aggravated and called my daddy, and he was good friends with a congressman. After he talked to him, things got rollin’! They finished it, and I came home.”
The Pearce family had a ranch, and he wanted to get back to ranching. He just wanted to put the war and the things that happened behind him, he said. “Some boys kept up with ’em and have reunions every year, but whenever I got out of the hospital, I didn’t want anything to do with any of it. All I wanted to do was see Okeechobee. I went because I had to, and I’d do it again. I reckon. If I had to, but I don’t want to see my grandsons go,” he said.