MF: Madison Fantozzi
LB: Leah Bartholomay
BL: Byron Loyd
LB: Well, you do make a difference and it is wonderful we are neighbors.
BL: Yes, we are.
LB: Best neighbors.
MF: I hear Byron singing through the walls sometimes. He’ll deny it but I heard it.
MF: Welcome back to POLKcast, this is Madison Fantozzi.
LB: And I’m your co-host Leah Bartholomay.
MF: This episode is in honor of those who have served our country as we celebrate Veteran’s Day. We are thrilled to have coordinator of Polk State’s veteran services, Byron Loyd, here with us today. He is a retired US Army command sergeant major and provides support for individuals who are transitioning from military life to college. Thanks for joining us today, we’re so excited to have you here.
BL: Great, glad to be here.
MF: Awesome. So, for starters, will you tell us a little bit about your background in the military?
BL: Okay, as you mentioned before, I am a command sergeant major US Army retiree. Twenty-seven years active duty. My deployments are from Operation Desert Storm, Desert Shield, through Operation Enduring Freedom. I was a combat engineer, paratrooper – which is I-which I loved. Um, my experiences and experience as serving all the way up to enlisted chain has helped me connect with all veterans and all branches. I’ve served jointly at the senior level. I was a teacher, coach, mentor, uh, starting as a sergeant through command sergeant major. I’ve had thousands under my command, so it was paramount that I knew each and every one in some form or fashion. As with my veterans I feel I have a great rapport with them because we can relate to career stories or issues no matter what rank they achieved or branch they served.
MF: You said being a paratrooper was one of your favorite things. Why?
BL: Only the courageous jump out of airplanes, a perfectly good airplane. Uh, that was our way of, uh, getting to where we needed to go. We called it forced entry, sky soldiers, uh, we would jump into a lot of our trainings and, um, mainly our trainings. Nothing a lot in the warzone, but we did
a lot of our trainings. We would jump in on the objective, and instead of catching the, uh, transportation in, we would always catch transportation out, coming back into, uh, after training. But again, I really loved that because it was something that a lot of folks couldn’t and would not do.
MF: Do you remember the first time you jumped out of a plane?
BL: Yes, I can remember. I was initially afraid of heights, uh, before I went in, and I said well, when I wanted to go in I wanted to be a combat engineer, because I wanted to do the things that combat engineers do. Which is explosive demolitions, land mines, um, bridge demolitions, and then jump out of airplanes because I wanted to get over my fear of heights. Um, it helped a little bit, but you think about it when you’re up twelve hundred plus feet and you’re jumping out of a suspended object and you’re just coming down with a parachute that’s, you know, holding you and your weight. You know, you could, you know, lose air, and fall fast or you could fall slow. But, uh, it was a very prestigious job because, again, we were the ones that would jump in before anything, any of the, uh, nonconventional forces would jump in and we would say, okay, this is us. This is how we do it, this is what we’re gonna do. Again, very prestigious. Takes a toll out on your body.
BL: Takes a toll on your body. I’ve damaged some things on by body. Some limbs, and some joints, and some sockets and all. But again, if I had to do it again I would go and do it all over again and jump out of airplanes because of the prestige it brought me while serving.
MF: That’s awesome.
LB: Can I ask, like, how much weight are you carrying when you – so you’re jumping and you’re just landing and you’re gonna go from there and do whatever you gotta do, so like, how much weight besides yourself are you carrying?
BL: Well, you have your main parachute, and a reserve parachute, and then you have your Alice pack at the time when I was jumping, and then now it’s called Molly. But it’s a rucksack basically a pack where you pack all your necessities out there that you need to survive, because if you’re jumping into the objective, you don’t have, you have already bypassed all of the supplies that’s needed. So, you jump with the necessities, which might not necessarily be a bunch of t-shirts and, and, and food that you need, but you jump with necessity of food that you jump in with. But you jump in with other supplies that’s needed to accomplish the mission, such as demolitions, bolt cutters, spare barrels of the weapons you’re carrying, more ammunition, so you’re jumping with a lot of that, making it heavy. So, you have eighty and ninety pounds that’s hanging below your reserve parachute when you jump out. And there was methods that we had to do once we jump out, you know, you have to release it, so it hits the ground first so it kind of releases some of that weight. But if you was a heavy guy like I am and was, you hit the ground pretty hard and fast, whereas someone who’s real light, even though they’re carrying that eighty-ninety-pound pack, they’re still hanging up in the air for a while.
MF: Right. So you got to get the timing right.
MF: Release, land –
BL: Release, land –
LB: Tuck and roll!
BL: Tuck and roll, pretty much.
BL: But mainly, nine times out of ten, it was always tuck, roll, roll, roll or roll, roll, tuck.
BL: Because the wind shifts.
BL: And changes your – your landing pattern.
MF: Wow. Well, listening to you tell a little bit about your experience, I can’t even begin to comprehend, you know, what you’ve – what you’ve gone through. So what is it like in the position that you’re in now to have students coming in where you can share those experiences and they understand where you’re coming from, and you also can be a mentor to those students?
BL: Again, because of the level I made it to the, uh, top of the chain of the enlisted rank – where you go from E1 to E9. And I went through E1 through E9 in those twenty-seven years. I was a teacher, coach, mentor, and started at the sergeant level. That’s when I really had troops under me that I had to mentor. You know, it grew from eight, into eighty, so forth and up to the thousands as a command sergeant major at the level I was. Again, I took pride in knowing a little something about those soldiers, and a lot of folks would ask me, “Well, how do you know you soldiers?” So, I might not have known their names, per say, but I would look at a crowd and I can pick out and say “That’s a soldier in my unit, that’s a soldier in my unit, that’s a soldier in my unit.” And if I had any closer contact with them, of course I could call them by name.
BL: But the way I’m – I treat this job with veteran students, I take pride in, you know, helping them going that extra mile because I know that’s what I did as a mentor, as a command sergeant major down from the first sergeant and down to the platoon sergeant and things that – the ranks I were. Again, it – I’d look at these students that are coming in now, there are younger soldiers than I was, or they’re younger rank than I was, so they need that guidance still. I’m giving that sergeant major love, that guidance, because some of them find out what rank I retired as, and then they start addressing me as that. It’s not a requirement, no, I introduce
myself as Byron Lloyd, coordinator of veteran services. But once they find out my background and see, then they know, “Oh, he knows how to take care of the soldiers because he’s been there, he has taken care of soldiers so he’s going to take care of me as a student.” And that’s what I try to lean on, too, taking care of all those different branches as I was in those leadership positions. I could walk across campus or whatever and they would yell and address me as sergeant major. I would respond and tell them “No, I – you know, you don’t have to call me that,” but they say “No, we respect,” because again that rank that I achieved, you know, it was a powerful rank structure. And um, you know, they understood what I did for soldiers when – of – as – they are – as they were soldiers. They understand that. So again, I take pride in taking care of my veterans, knowing my veterans, and kind of knowing about them, and knowing where I can guide them, to the left or right, outreach, things like that. Because they don’t necessarily come here for schooling – well, let me back up, they do come here for schooling – but they also come with other baggages as – of homelessness, or on the brink of being homeless, on the brink of you know can’t take care of their family or can’t, you know. And in the military we had mechanisms that would take care of that. You know, we had dining halls where they can take their family if need be, or we had special housing we can put them in until they got to where they can provide for their family on the outside. But again, going back to I take pride in my job, I like what I do, I like what I do for the veterans, I get feedback that I do decent – again because that’s what I did in the military it’s like me giving back to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guards, all of those that I service here at Polk State.
LB: Very cool.
MF: What are some of the challenges that these individuals encounter when they’re trying to transition from military life to becoming a college student?
BL: The transition would be getting out and fitting into civilian life, because again in the military you’ve structured. You know what you’re going at be doing at four-thirty in the morning, you know where you’re going to be after, you know, physical training. You’re going to know how far you’re going to run, you’re going to know how far you have to carry that eighty-pound rucksack, you got to know how much you have to shoot to qualify on your weapons, the certain weapons you have, you got to know from point A to point B where you’re going to be. And coming into the civilian structure, it’s – yeah, you know what you have to do as far as your degree audit, but if you don’t have that guidance or that structured guidance to get you, you know, “Okay, show me the degree audit, show me what it says from A to B, C, D, E, F,” okay, then I got it. But if you show them A, and expect it to pick up B, C, D and E, that’s where a lot of veterans get agitated, when you could – you know – you didn’t show me all the tasks, conditions and standards, that’s what we called it when we’re doing our training. Teach me the task, show me the conditions, and here are the standards. Okay, now if you taught me that I should know how to go further in this task that we’re getting ready to do. And that’s some of the challenges, again, that veterans face because, you know, you’re not – they’re not shown or shown to where they’re, what they’re – what they know of. Again, they – you know, I know where I had to be, knew what I had to do, knew what was going to go on, here’s contingencies if this didn’t happen in this array, so this is what we’re doing in case it failed this way, then we do it another way. But a lot of them, they don’t see that, the sense of urgency, we want it done, talk – tell – told to us up front that what we need to do so we can get it done, versus getting told one – one thing at one office, and
then going to another office, and getting told something, that I’m playing – I’m being ping-ponged back and forth. Tell me what I need to know all at this office –
BL: – so I won’t have to come back here anymore. And then when I go to this office, tell me all what I need to know so I won’t have to go back to the other office.
BL: Transitioning is very hard for a veteran, especially depending on how much they had time to prep for transition before they got out of the military. Case and point for me, I mean I had six months to prepare for getting out, so all of the medical I had to do, all of the – you know, getting houses, household goods and things shipped from one place to the other, getting things situated. I had that six months to do because I had folks to guide me, that said ‘This is what you need to do,’ you know, as I got older in the military. But if – you know, you have individual service persons that get out just some – on – within a, you know, two-week, thirty-day time frame, they don’t really have time to do all of that medical. They just, you know, if they want to get out, I want to get out, I want to get out, I want to get out, because I just can’t – I don’t like it anymore, something happened medically so I can’t stay in anymore, so I want to get out, I want to get out, I want to be a civilian now. But if they don’t transition properly, you know, it sets them up for failure.
BL: It sets them up for failure when they’re coming into any civilian site, whether that’s college or whether it’s going into Amazon or Geico or places like that, in any area they go to.
MF: So what are some of the services that veterans have available to them at your office?
BL: Initially, they come for education benefits. I’ve had veterans come in there to say, “Hey, you know, I’m about to lose my home,” or “I’m about to be homeless from where I’m staying,” or “I’m getting kicked out from staying with friends or family, I need,” you know, “Can you find me somewhere to offer,” I mean, “to live?” So what I have done, I’m connected with the outside community and within the local community of homeless veterans, shirtless veterans, a lot of those agencies they call them like that. I go to the Polk County Veteran’s Council meeting every second Tuesday of the month, and there’s different agencies in there that offer help to veterans. So I’m connected that way, per say. My office, we do not have – you know, Polk State does not offer anything within the homeless part of – within the veteran community. They have My Brother’s Keeper, that does that for a lot of the students, not just veterans. But I can guide veteran students to the outside agencies or where they need to go to help – to hopefully help them from being homeless or to help them with paying some – a bill here or a bill there, you know, finding jobs. So, I’m very connected again with the outside community as well as – as well as the local community.
MF: That makes you and your office a very valuable resource for those students.
BL: I would like to say we, we do, I mean because if you come in my office you can see all the pamphlets and the literature that I have, that a veteran could come in and say “Okay, wow, I
didn’t know this program existed for veterans within Polk County or within the state of Florida.” And they take it and they, you know, they use it or they don’t use it, or they read about it. But again, for my office, outside of the veteran’s education benefits, you know, I’m helping them sign up for those benefits if they hadn’t done it in transition in the – when they’re getting out of the military. I don’t turn any veteran away from trying to help him or her. You know, if they call and I know it’s nothing with education, I’m going to find out where they need to be or where can I send them. Polk County, whatever county, or this is who you need to go to in Polk County and he or she will direct you to where you need to go. I will never turn a veteran away from trying to help them, you-you know, not just for education. I will help them outside of education, you know, again, so.
MF: What I also love about your office – back on your office – is, um, you have a lot of really neat display, um – with a bun—you have the American flag, but then you have a bunch of coins, and you have a bunch of medals. Can you talk about some of your favorite medals that you have?
BL: Those that you’ve seen, um, it’s just a little bit that I’ve put up. My challenge coins, a few plaques of memorable units that I’ve been in, uh I have one in there that has my last static line, meaning the last jump I jumped, a military static line jump. And they present it to me when I got back to the airfield. It’s a long process if I told you—
MF: Is that the barbed wire one?
BL: We’ll get to that one.
BL: But the uh, it’s the yellow one when you walk straight in and you look up and it has the yellow, uh, cord through it, and it has a silver snap hook. And again that’s what you’d hook up to the anchor line cable, and when you jump out in four seconds you feel a jerk, and that’s the chute opening, and there’s a safety that stays on the plane when we exit the airplane – aircraft – and he marked it, because he don’t take ‘em down right then, he takes ‘em down after the last jumper jumps and everybody’s flying out. I mean, everybody’s doing their thing, and the plane is flying back to the airfield, the pack shed as we called it – they’re flying back there so he marked it to remember – say, “This one was Sergeant Major Lloyd’s last jump.”
MF: Very cool.
BL: And, uh, when I got there – they were there before us of course, because once we hit the ground, you know, then we get on transportation and ride back to where – unless we’re walking. But, uh, he said, “Hey, Sergeant Major, this is for you.” And I said, “well, wh—” you know, he said, “That’s the last one,” he said “It’s m—it’s yours. I marked it when I grabbed your static line.” And it kind of choked me up because, you know, I never expected that, but it was something, you know, I look up at every time and I look, you know, it’s the last one. I will never jump again, uh, in that form or fashion. Um, but the barbed wire one, that’s the one from the DMZ when I was stationed in Korea. They have them as, uh, gifts, at a cer—when you go to the
DMZ they have a gift shop there, but it’s some of the first initial wire of the DMZ of North and South Korea.
BL: Yeah, the division between North and South Korea. So, uh, I look at that because I was actually, again, stationed close to the DMZ, and I got to go to the actual DMZ to, uh, almost toe-to-toe with the, uh, North Korean soldier. Um, on the North Korean border there’s no wire there anymore, it’s just soldiers standing there at the border, and you know, we went face-to-face, toe-to-toe, just, you know, looking. But, you know, it was a great experience, because, you know, to be there and hear about what’s going on now, and what happened years before I even joined the military. I’m like, you know, this is history for me, memorable moments, memorable times, yeah.
LB: Now, what was it like looking into his—like, did you look into each other’s eyes?
BL: Yes, it was almost – I can feel my breathing on him. I assume he was breathing, but –
BL: He had also, shades so I couldn’t look into his eyes—
BL: But it wasn’t nothing like sticking – uh, making facial gestures, I just went as close as I knew I could –
BL: And stood there and looked at him.
BL: And, you know, I said, “Okay, let me back up before my momentum pushes me forward,” and then it’d be an, uh, incident.
BL: Or, uh, you know, with North and South Korea. I said—well, you know, and it’s done, uh, everybody has done that, um, you know, you’re not supposed to point at the North Korean – the headquarters that was there but you could look over there and you could see their leaders looking out over into the south side. Um, again, very, very, um, very memorable moments, you know, puckered time moments.
BL: It’s pucker factor.
LB: Now, you’ve been to—were you—did you – were you in Germany?
BL: Yes, Germany twice, my first tour was Munich, Germany, and there’s another pucker factor—
BL: Back when they had the- the German border, the Russia border – this was right before the wall came down – um, it was a place called the Fulda Gap, where we had to guard, and the Soviet aircraft Hin D , is what it is, a Hin D attack helicopter. And I’m up in the guard shack, you know, right at the border of the Fulda Gap which is East Germany and West Germany, and I’m sitting there in their guard shack looking out over into the east, and then the helicopter flies right up to the shack where you could look and kind of see, and he had his hand on the trigger of the weapon, the big mounted munition weapon, and he was smiling. Then he backed off and flew away. Now I’m like, a young PFC, and I’m like, “What’s going on?” You know? I didn’t, you know—I later realized, “Okay, yeah,” you know, anything could have happened. Slip of the trigger, again—
BL: And, you know, it was just, I guess, fun to him, joke to them, but I was like “Whoa,” you know, “That was – wow.” You know we kind of—it startled me for a minute, and then, as I grew older and learned more culture and knew more military tactics and all, I understood “Okay, this is not what was going on.”
BL: Propaganda type things like that.
LB: That’s terrifying.
BL: Yeah, it was – it was, yeah. Um, I mean, I didn’t dwell on it a lot, but it, you know. I think about it now and I’m like “Man, I was involved in some stuff like that.”
BL: You know, because again, of the division right there, but then later on, this was—that was in eighty-six, nineteen eighty-six, but then later on in nineteen eighty-nine, that’s when the wall fell. Uh, so a lot of that got wiped out.
LB: Did you go into the military right after high school?
BL: Yes, June ninth of nineteen eighty-five, I graduated. July tenth, I was in the military.
BL: I didn’t waste no time. I wanted – that’s all I wanted to be was a soldier. I wanted to, like I said, jump out of airplanes, blow up stuff, and-and-and, uh, land mines and things like that, and I got to do all of that. I got to be an army drill sergeant, where I molded civilians into soldiers, uh, for twenty-six months, and that was a good time of my career, uh, stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And a lot of folks say, “I can’t see you as a drill sergeant, you-you know, you’re not that rough and tough.” I say, “Well, that’s a persona you have to put on.”
BL: I said, because I treated them, you know, as humans. You know, you see your movies out there, your Private Ryans and your Major Pains and all of that—
BL: I said – but, you know, I-I – there were moments where I was like that, but for the most part I wanted to mold these young civilians, male and female, into army soldiers to better their life, to better themselves. I didn’t have a, um, bad life. I grew up on a farm, so I knew what hard work was, I knew what discipline was. I was disciplined a lot by my dad and uncles and things like that so, you know, drill sergeant yelling at me when I went through basic training, it was like “Okay, yeah, you sound like my dad, okay –”
BL: “—I just need to do what I need to do so I can keep you from yelling at me.” But my thing when I was a drill sergeant – yeah there was a lot of times when I did yell, but then at times, you know, I wasn’t that yeller who’d just yell every day. Yell every day, yell every day, no, if I had to yell at a group to make sure everything was squared away, okay, I did that, but on a constant, no. Because y-you just start getting zoned out. “Okay, here he comes, here come Drill Sergeant Loyd, he’s going to—we’re going to zone him out, ‘cause he’s just going to talk, yell, yell, yell, just to hear himself yell.” But I wasn’t like that. So, again, so again folks ask me “You was a drill sergeant? You know, you don’t seem like you could’ve been.” Well, yes I was, but I just wasn’t the, um, terror all the time—
BL: But there’s times where I would say – and I live to this saying ‘til now – I used to jump up and keep the sun out the sky.
BL: Because I was just, you know, when they knew they got drill sergeant mad, or they got first sergeant mad, or they got Sergeant Loyd mad, or they got sergeant major mad, they knew. “We’ve messed up.”
BL: “He’s mad, we messed up.” Let’s fix it. Let’s fix it. And that’s –
BL: Yeah, quick. Quick.
LB: Were you the first in your family?
BL: No, I-I followed my, uh, dad was a retired reserve for twenty-one years, and I followed my brother, um – but I just chose to do a little more than what they did.
BL: Uh, they always have applaud me—applauded me, you know, for doing what I did, again, dad didn’t want to jump out of airplanes, my brother didn’t want to, I wanted to, you know, ‘cause I was, just – wanted to do that and, uh, you know again they applauded me for what, doing – I have a sister, she retired air force, uh, I have one sister – there was four of us, two boys, two girls. I’m the youngest of the four. But, uh, my sister above me, she was like, “No, I don’t want no parts in the military, y’all can have it,” and she still lives by that to this day, you know, she, “Mm-mm, y’all did it all for me.”
BL: Um, but again, you know, followed all of my family, mother – I mean, not my mother, mama no, dad yes, brother, sister, then me.
MF: And what sort of education did you go on to receive?
BL: I received a bachelor’s in business administration. Throughout my military career, I did it here, did it there because, again, that’s why I went into the military ‘cause I didn’t want to do schooling, uh, I just wasn’t a school type. I wanted to, you know, get in the dirt and do things and all, um, but I needed education for the promotion track—
BL: You know, because the different leadership schools I went to, education was involved. So I said, “Well, it’s free. Let me go ahead and get it and I can go ahead and do it.” Um, as, and – I finally, you know, graduated with my master’s—excuse me, my bachelor’s, and then went to start my master’s. I just hadn’t completed it yet.
MF: Well what advice and motivation do you have for, um, individuals who are getting out of military life and looking at college and – what would you say to them?
BL: Um, I would say don’t rush to failure. Find out what’s best for you because college is not for everyone. And especially coming out of the military because if you were, uh, in the trenches as I call it, you know you might want to look at a trade school versus sitting and writing a twelve page paper – which, you know, we did in the military – but if you were a strictly hands-on person you-you want to look at trade school because you can use your VA benefits there or – versus, you know, what type of school – just don’t think, “Oh, there’s a university there, I need to go there, I need to take these classes because I want to use my GI bill.” But then when you get in class, it’s like, overwhelming because you’ve been around a diverse group of people but then you have students that come straight out of high school and their mindset is totally different. So again, you want to find out what you want to do. Do you want to continue working like you worked in the military or particular job set – job skill, or do you want to, um, you know do something different, learn something – a trade, uh, different type of trade. Um, but again look at what’s out there for you, you know, get transitioned, pay attention in the transition classes of—you know, find out what area you’re going to and then find out what’s there. Um, because I’ve seen a lot of students, well, soldiers, service persons get out and they rush to failure because again, when they’re out, their military benefits and pay sort of start dwindling
down, versus you know anyone who’s retired, uh, if you just get out, you know, and you done- have you done your time, you-you get out okay, everything kind of cuts, so you’re looking for your next role of income, you know, you’re not—you’re looking for a job, but you’re looking, “Okay, this is my income if I’m going to school, so let me enroll in Polk State College,” and then they get here and they’re like, “Whoa, I gotta write papers, I gotta do English one, I gotta do English two, Psychology,” and that’s overwhelming to them to where they know is, when we say, “Let’s go kick down the door,” we have a task, again, condition and standards, but it’s – I don’t have to write about it a lot. You just have to show me how to do it and I remember where to put my foot on this door hinge or whatever, things of the sort. Um, but you want to make sure that you, again, don’t rush to fail – I’ve always said that and I-I believe in that. Don’t rush to fail, find out which school is best for you, find out if it has a job fit for you, because we get out, we as veterans get out and think that all our military experience translates into civilian education. It can, if the school can translate it and evaluate it properly, um, but it’s not necessarily so. So don’t, you know, think, “Okay, Imma get out, twenty-seven years, and then I can automatically have a degree here at Polk State College where I didn’t have to sit in many classes.” Not necessarily so, you’re gonna have to do some of the math, some Englishes or whatever, because it doesn’t – it’s not equivalent to, what – now there are schools out there, that, you know, will take all of my military or their military education and turn it into civilian, but you know, then you get into the accreditation part of it, um, you know, the eq-equality of the classes, so then when you try to leave that school and come to a traditional IHL, then you look like, “Well, they don’t accept my classes from this school, they don’t accept my degree from this school,” because it’s accredited different and it’s not equal, so –
MF: So they need to come see you.
BL: If they come see me, Imma lead them to the best avenue I can and will, um, again that’s my passion for them, because I served alongside them, before them, uh, I’ve paved the way for them. Um, again, I take pride in taking care of them because it’s something that’s still in me, uh, even retired after twenty-seven years, being retired for seven years now, so I still have that passion of taking care of veterans. And they’re dependents because they’re still slotted as veterans on the benefits, but I take care of the army’s, the marine sergeant’s daughter or son, the same way I would take care of the actual marine sergeant who is a veteran, uh, labeled veteran, uh, but the student, uh, the dependent veteran, I take care of them as well. That’s – I’ll say it like that.
MF: And so students can reach you by visiting polk.edu/veterans or emailing email@example.com.
BL: Yes, they can reach me by that, yes, that would be the best way.
LB: Do you have any, like, a specific success story of a veteran that came to Polk State and graduated and sort of found their niche?
BL: Yes, um, he just graduated. He’s challenged by eyesight. His name is Phil Lieberman. He’s a warrior, hard charger, he walked across the stage with limited eyesight. I won’t-I don’t-I tell him I don’t call him blind, I say he has limited eyesight. But I see his challenges because he took the – he has the accommodations of the, uh, disabilities and services, but he never gave up. He never gave up, and he would always come and ask for my guidance or my help. He would call me
Sergeant Major, and I would call him Ranger because of where we served. He served in-in different units and I called him Ranger, and again he called me Sergeant Major, and if I could – anywhere, if I see him with his, um, aid stick I’m yelling out, “Ranger!” and he knows where I’m at, he knows who I am. So, yeah, he’s a success story for me, because again I saw him walk across the stage this past graduation with pride, and his parents and grandparents were with him, um, to see him through, and he, uh, yeah. Great success story with him.
LB: What did, uh, he go to – what was his degree?
BL: He-He got the liberal arts, because he’s wanting to transfer to a university, but you know, the struggles he had in trying to get those classes accommodated for him, all of those accommodations, also the struggles he had, you know, getting to class because he had limited transportation –
BL: – so he had to catch a bus here, a bus there, and things like that, so, that-that – again, that’s why he’s my success story.
BL: I just want folks to understand, um, about veterans, we-we-we’re just like the-the next person who never served, we don’t think we’re better than those who have served – or not have served, uh, we just know what we’ve been through. You know, a lot of us have been through different things, I’ve been through a lot in twenty-seven years, and the person who’s only served three years has been through a lot in his or her years, so I don’t compare those type of years like that. So I’ve been in twenty-seven years, you don’t know what – you know – I know what his level or their level was after three years because I did those three years, but beyond my three years, you know, again, I still – I never forgot where I came from. I’ll put it that way, I never forgot where I came from. And I also want folks to understand the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day is a day of mourning, and we’re remembering those who we lost in any battle or never came home to be with their loved ones. Veteran’s Day is to honor all who have served, living and not living, so I just want folks to get – you know, understand, again, what those differences between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. It’s good to say, “Happy Veteran’s Day,” might not be too good to say, “Happy Memorial Day,” because again, for me, why is it so happy? I lost brothers and sisters in arms.
LB: I never understood that either. A lot of people say, “Happy Memorial Day!” And it’s like – it is frustrating to not, you know – they think they’re saying something nice, and it’s like –
BL: Right, yes.
LB: Really you’re not understanding the concept.
LB: Um, what I find particularly interesting about your department is the stuff that you do, um, outside. Like, the displays that you put around campus. Like last Memorial Day you put up a
really neat display of a table with salt and a lemon and a plate, and it was a place setting for a soldier. Can you talk about that a little bit?
BL: Yes. When I put that up, back for Memorial Day, it was, um, again, something I know I’ve never done and I felt Polk State never saw. Um, too bad that it wasn’t in the view where everyone could see it because of the summer term that it was in. Folks are not – um, not a lot of folks on campus, students. Had I put it in the student center during that term I could’ve, uh, you know, drawn a big crowd to understand it. But that’s again, the fallen soldier memorial to honor and recognize and remember those who have not come home, and then if you saw it, it has a listing of what every item on there is for and what it represents, to do – for folks to read. I had a read out on there so again, everybody could read what it stood for. The salt stood for, what the lemon stood for, what the inverted wine glass was for, the candle—
LB: The yellow ribbon around the candle—
BL: The yellow ribbon around the candle, around the rolls, things like that. I could have added more to it, but I didn’t want it to get any more deeper than it, you know, than it is, already is.
LB: Yeah, no, it was really beautiful, and um, you had that little write up about each individual thing, and it was just a tablecloth on a—and a chair, and just sort of like, a place setting, and really just to remember that they are gone.
BL: Right, exactly. And it’s not the time – Memorial Day is not the time – excuse me, it is the time to remember, but it could be set up any time throughout any part of the year but I saw fit for Memorial Day that it be set up because of what, you know, what I was doing for that time. If you go to VFWs or AMVETS places you might find one in there year round where it’s set up, but again I chose to set it up when, uh, it was leading into the Memorial Day holiday so I could, um, inform and enlighten what it means for Polk, and represent Polk, represent the fallen comrades, uh, that have went to Polk. Now I don’t know how many have went and have – are missing, or killed in action, but I’m quite sure there are some that have been and are.
LB: Yeah, we opened in nineteen sixty-four—
BL: Yes, definitely. Vietnam—
LB: One thousand percent.
BL: Yes, exactly. So, that’s what I did for them—
BL: To the present time of Memorial Day when it happened.
MF: Awesome. Well thank you so much for joining us today on POLKcast, Byron, and thank you for your service to this country and at Polk State College. It really means a lot.