Marine pilot says God pulled him through Vietnam crash
The Edmond Sun, Okla.
On June 8, 1967, Marine Capt. Boyd L. “Bo” Barclay was copilot of a UH-1E helicopter gunship assigned to a visual reconnaissance mission near Khe Sanh. His pilot said he saw something along a tree line and wanted to make a gun run. They made a strafing run on that area and came back around.
“As we were pulling up they opened up on us and the first burst got the engine,” Barclay said. “We started going down.”
Barclay switched radio channels and started calling “Mayday. Mayday.”
“The next burst came through the cockpit and hit me in the hand, blew my hand up and I didn’t see any hand there,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m hit!’”
He reached over to grab a pressure point and the next thing he heard the pilot say is, “I’m dead. I’m dead.” He turned and looked at the pilot who was hanging in his straps.
A pilot has procedures to follow if their plane is hit by gunfire and loses an engine, Barclay said. They were pulling up, and normally the action would call for the use of two hands. His hand was gone so he had to use what was left of it to begin the landing procedure.
“I knew I couldn’t take it into a clearing so I was looking for some trees,” he said. “We’re in the mountains. I wanted to be as close to a valley as I could.”
He used his leg as well and hung on as they descended through the trees to cushion the landing. They hit and rolled over. Barclay laid there for a minute.
When he smelled smoke he climbed out of the crippled helicopter. The two crewman were on the ground, in a daze. Barclay asked for a tourniquet to put on his arm. A crew member began working on it.
Then the enemy began firing on them from the hills. A second helicopter gunship was shooting at the enemy position.
The survivors took cover and talked about getting the pilot out of their downed helicopter. Barclay intended to go get him out by using his survival knife to cut through the canopy of the helicopter, but he took a few steps and fell on his face, thinking his leg was broken (it turned out to be his ankle).
“They pulled me back and said, ‘He’s dead sir.’”
Barclay said two young Marines started dragging him up the side of the mountain on their hands. As he was being dragged, he noticed his mangled hand was not bleeding.
At the top of the mountain a helicopter landed to pick them up. Barclay was transported to California where he spent about three months in the hospital recovering from his wounds.
For his actions that day, Barclay was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
“By his courage, exceptional presence of mind, and selfless devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, Captain Barclay upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service,” his Silver Star citation reads.
THE HIDDEN STORY
Barclay said there’s a story behind the story. He spoke about the nature of special operations missions, about how he was told during a briefing about what usually happened to crew members if they were shot down.
A couple of weeks before he was shot down, he was in bed one night and started thinking, getting scared, not about dying, but about how he didn’t want to let anybody down.
“So I started praying,” said Barclay, who became a Christian at age 16. All of a sudden out of nowhere the 23rd Psalm came to him.
“Literally, in that hooch, there were about eight of us, a bright light came in. It was like the Lord came down, touched me and said, ‘Never fear. I will be with you.’ And the fear just flowed out of me.”
When he was shot down, the valley of the shadow of death, words from the 23rd Psalm, were all around him, Barclay said.
“But I was never scared because a few weeks earlier the Lord had assured me that He was gonna take care of me,” he said.
Barclay said when he tells people about the story he says he’s alive for three reasons — for some reason God wanted him to be alive, his Marine Corps training and he was rescued by those two young Marines.
During leave back in the states, flying from airport to airport on his way to Oklahoma, Barclay was in uniform wearing a prosthesis on his arm and a walking cast on his leg.
“It was more or less like I was a leper,” he said. “Nobody talked to me.”
Today, Americans will go up to troops and thank them for their service, Barclay said. When he travels he wears a Purple Heart shirt and has been upgraded to first class on an airliner as a thank you. He receives thank yous for his service even.
“I’m really happy for these young troops today for the recognition that they’re getting as far as what they’re doing,” Barclay said referring to troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “These young men and women are 100 percent volunteers.”
Barclay said they are well-trained soldiers who make sacrifices for their country including serving multiple tours in war zones.
About a month ago Barclay learned that he had been nominated for induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.
“It’s an honor. It really is,” he said. “I’m proud of my service to our country and the Marine Corps. That’s something special to be recognized in your home state. It makes you feel good.”
Barclay said having been overseas, seeing the comparison, he tried to teach his children and his grandchildren about what a great country the United States is. He said he remembers the veterans who fought in previous wars to preserve the nation and its freedoms.
©2012 The Edmond Sun (Edmond, Okla.)
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