Honor your hero with thoughts, memories, images and stories.
Larry Stephen Byford of Center, Texas was the fifth casualty of the Vietnam War in Shelby County, Texas. He was drafted into the US Army in October, 1965 at the age of 20. He took his basic training and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
His tour in Vietnam began on Tuesday, April 18th, 1967 with the 3rd Platoon, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. His military occupation specialty (MOS) was 11B10, Infantryman and he was known by fellow soldiers as “Possum Trot or simply Possum”. On Thursday June 22nd, 1967 Larry’s unit was flown by helicopter to a place called “The Rockpile” that was located on the coast of the Binh Dinh Province of South Vietnam. There was intelligence that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had for some time been infiltrating this area. C Company discovered a cave with NVA soldiers inside and tried for many hours to get them to surrender but they could not. The next day, Friday June 23rd, Major Edwin Martin who was trained in negotiating with the enemy was flown in. Mark Byford in his book “A Name on a Wall” presented several eyewitness accounts of what happened next. In essence Major Martin walked to the entrance of the cave unarmed with a bullhorn and tried to talk the NVA soldiers out. For his efforts he was shot and killed point blank by a NVA machine gun. PFC Larry Byford without regard for his own safety went to the Major’s aid and was also killed in action at the age of 22. For his selfless action that day he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.
Larry Stephen Byford’s body was escorted home by Specialist Four Billy E. Dixon of Fort Polk, Louisiana. On Friday, June 30th, 1967 the funeral was held with the Rev. Lewis Johnson and Dr. Carrol Chadwick officiating. Pallbearers were Melva Lee Tomlin, Jimmy Bradshaw, Delbert Graves, Bill Rushing, Herbert Langford and Tommy Murphy. Final Military Honors were presented by an honor guard from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where Larry was buried. He had just four months earlier in this very cemetery attended his friend “Shorty” Andrews’ funeral who had also been KIA in Vietnam.
Larry was born in Center, Texas on May 1st, 1945 and was the seventh child of Fate (1911-1987) and Cecil Stephens (1911-1968) Byford. His siblings who have passed are; brother Harold (1932-2002), two infant sisters, Barbara Eunice (1934-1934) and Carol Darlene ((1949-1949). He has two older living brothers, Hughie and David and living sisters, Nancy McMellon, Pat Evans and Debbie Sitton. Brother Harold was a US Air Force Veteran who served in the Korean War.
Larry Byford grew up in the Short Community and attended elementary and high school in Center but quit in 1962. His sister-in-law Tommye told me this in an email; “He worked at Watlington Motors, a GMC dealership in Center in the parts dept. He owned a red and white corvette that he was so proud of. It was about a 1961 or 1962 model. He and his buddies liked to play dominos at Sim Holts store in their spare time. He was a very kind hearted person. His mother was an invalid the last several years of her life and his father was a pipefitter in Port Neches so he worked out of town. Larry was basically the man of the house on week days. They had a maid but Larry had to do the driving. He was given a permit to drive at an early age.” The following tributes to Larry were found on the internet: Niece Melanie Gamble wrote on the Virtual Wall in 2009 “We are so proud of our hero and to know he gave his life for his country and our freedom. You will never be forgotten, and always in our hearts. I was just a little girl when my uncle Larry went to Vietnam, but I remember the day well. He was a kind man and always had a smile on his face when I seen him. I have the most respect for you and your fallen brothers and all our veterans who have fought wars and are still fighting. You are in our hearts forever. You Are Not Forgotten! With much love, Mel.” Also in 2009 on the Virtual Wall this from Frank Peery, “I never knew Larry, but he and my wife were and always will be second cousins. He severed in Vietnam at the same time I was there. I severed with 2nd Bn, 1st Marines 1966-67. I leave with Semper Fi.”. On the Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall in 2005 Don Jensen said this “You tried to save the major. We honor your courage. Possum Trot Texas can be proud. That lock of hair on your helmet was your statement.” No one could ever figure out what that lock of hair was all about.
Earlier I mentioned the book “A Name On A Wall” by Mark Byford. Mark is an Englishman who was in Washington D. C. and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial one morning. He said out of the 58,282 names a shaft of sunlight illuminated the name of Larry Byford. It was a name that was very similar to the name of his father, Lawry Byford who served in World War II. The inside cover of his books says “this random event led Mark to embark on a unique personal journey to discover the story of the name on The Wall. Travelling more than 30,000 miles from east Texas to Vietnam he learned about the lasting impact on Larry’s siblings, friends and the comrades who were there with him on the day he died.” On March 12th, Mark emailed me “Hi Larry, I hope the book has arrived. It was a great privilege to undertake the journey of discovery about Larry”. You can learn more about Mark and his book at http://anameonawall.com/.
Shelby County Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8904 and the Ladies Auxiliary ordered a copy of the book and along with family, friends, and fellow veterans donated it to the Fannie Brown Booth Memorial Library on Saturday, March, 29th, 2014. This was the same day the Texas Vietnam Memorial was being dedicated in Austin. Judge Rick Campbell was also on hand to sign a proclamation making March 29th Vietnam Veterans Day in Shelby County. It was great to meet many of his family members and friends who knew him. A couple of days afterward I received this email from his sister Debbie Sitton; “I wanted to let you know we all truly enjoyed the presentation of the book at the library on Saturday. It was a good thing. We were raised in the country when times were simple...but we had what we needed. As kids growing up Larry was my hero then and still is…all the boys who gave up the ultimate sacrifice are our heroes. But by no means should we forget the heroes that made it home....like yourself and all the others. The book "A Name on A Wall" is not just a story about Larry....but all those names on the wall. For that we have our freedom. I want to say thank you so much for what you have done.” Sister-in-law Tommye wrote “Thank you so much for sharing your photos. They are great! The program was so good and very appreciated. It was good to meet you and the other great folks of Shelby County. It is such an honor for the VFW Post 8904 to recognize Larry today. The family is very appreciative. Actually it was our honor to Welcome Home Larry “Possum” Byford.