by Con Marshall
Determined that his younger brother’s ultimate sacrifice nearly 50 years ago will never be forgotten, Rolland Sayer of Chadron has spent about six months gathering materials for a special tribute and took it to be displayed at the Furnas County Museum in Cambridge, Neb., last week.
It is a shadow box containing the medals, ribbons and certificates that Terry Sayer had earned. A photo of him and the U.S. flag given to his family at his burial are also placed in the 28- by 30-inch shadow box.
|Nebraskan Terry Sayer, U.S. Army|
Died in Vietnam - 1969
Terry Sayer was 21 and just 35 days away from completing his year-long tour of duty in Vietnam when he died March 6, 1969, apparently as the result of small arms fire.
The Sayer family lived on a Furnas County farm near Holbrook, about seven miles from Cambridge.
Like others who lose loved ones, particularly at wartime, Rolland Sayer has long grieved the death of his brother. While they were 13 years apart in the family of 14 – nine boys and five girls – Rolland says Terry was more like a son than a brother.
Much of that feeling is because shortly after Terry graduated from Holbrook High School in 1965, he came to Chadron and lived with Rolland and his wife Nancy for two years before he was drafted into the Army.
“We were close,” Rolland relates. “He was a really good kid. We got along well and Nancy liked him, too. There were never any problems with Terry.”
Just like his older brother, who was a bricklayer, stone mason, carpenter and construction foreman for more than 50 years before retiring about 16 months ago, Terry worked construction during his stay in Chadron.
Much of that time he helped build the High Rise Dormitory at Chadron State College, Rolland remembers.
Terry was inducted into the Army on June 13, 1967. He served with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry, B Company. Following basic training at Fort Polk in Louisiana, he was stationed in Hawaii several months before being sent to Vietnam, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
Rolland said his brother was among the soldiers referred to as “tunnel rats,” those who were often assigned to clear and destroy enemy tunnel complexes. According to Wikipedia, the tunnels were linked to hospitals, training areas, storage facilities, headquarters and barracks. When constructed with sophisticated ventilation systems, Viet Cong guerrillas could remain hidden underground for months at a time, the Wikipedia information states.
During his tour of duty, Terry often sent letters home. His mother, Mabel, saved each of them and in the late 1980s when her health was failing, gave Rolland a suitcase filled with them.
Rolland said there’s one problem with the letters. None are dated and there’s no indication where Terry’s unit was located or what its assignments were.
The suitcase also contained the U.S. flag that the family received at Terry’s burial and the medal containers, but they were empty.
|Rolland Sayer of Chadron with a display honoring his late brother, Terry.|
Army Sergeant Terry Sayer died in Vietnam in 1969.
That made it necessary for Rolland to have them duplicated so they could be displayed. He contacted the Dawes County Veterans Service Office in Chadron and began the process of acquiring the medals.
Rolland said Darrell Marshall of Chadron, a Vietnam veteran and a leader in area veterans activities for a couple of decades, provided much help. Fortunately, Terry’s DD214 form that every veteran receives when he or she is discharged or, as in Terry’s case the family receives, was in the suitcase. It lists the citations the soldier earned. Rolland had filed it years ago at the Veterans Service Office in Chadron.
The next step was to submit the request for the duplicate citations through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Public and Inter-Governmental Affairs. It verified that the request was legitimate.
About two months after the request was submitted, the materials arrived. The Sayers took them to Hobby Lobby in Scottsbluff to be framed. The resulting shadow box was completed in mid-October, a few days before Rolland and Nancy took it to the museum in Cambridge to display.
The medals include two bronze stars that are awarded for heroism. They were accompanied by certificates, noting that one was for ground combat and the other for operations.
The medals also include two purple hearts that are presented when a soldier is wounded, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal and a Vietnam Service Medal, along with a rifle marksmanship medal.
All were provided by the government without charge, but the package did not include a Vietnam Gallantry Cross that the South Vietnamese government awarded foreign servicemen who fought in the war. Marshall knew that medal was available at the Army-Navy Store in Rapid City, and Rolland purchased one to complete the display.
Terry’s display is not the only one honoring a member of the Sayer family at the Furnas County Museum, which Rolland and Nancy said is outstanding. There’s also one for Maurice Sayer, Rolland’s cousin from the Orleans community. The aircraft he was piloting was shot down in New Guinea during World War II.
Serving their country is a tradition for the Sayers. Seven of the nine boys in Rolland’s family served, including Rolland, who was stationed in Germany most of the time during his two years in the Army beginning in 1957.
Rolland is relieved that his “labor of love” project is completed, but noted it was difficult for him to “give it up” at the museum last week, even though that was his goal all along. However, a large photo of the shadow box taken by the Sayers’ granddaughter, Sheyenne Sandstrom, is already on the mantel above the fireplace in their home.
NOTE: Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story with Dawes County Journal