Billy Norris Floyd was drafted as a young man into the U.S. Army in 1964. He would be counted for all time as one of the 2.7 million Americans estimated to have served this country during the Vietnam War.
Floyd was educated in the small towns of Wartrace and Normandy, where he also proudly accepted his draft duties with the Army. As for being drafted, the veteran notes in hindsight, “You do what you have to do, when it is time.”
He became a medic in the early stages of the Vietnam War—a time when the military seemed unprepared for the devastation laying in wait for America.
Some medics signed up for those duties. Floyd said he had no choice.
According to official United States government statistics, millions of Americans like Billy Floyd were drafted through the Selective Service during the Vietnam War (specifically between August 1964 and February 1973.)
While he’s not real talkative about that part of his life nearly 60 years ago, the veteran doesn’t mind answering questions about his Vietnam experience. Some of his military photos, he regrets, were stolen.
To those who ask, he shows the war through books he’s collected. But it’s his personal account which no doubt truly epitomizes the era in which he lived and served.
How it all began
Billy’s basic training was done in Fort Polk, La. Army maneuvers, he recalls, were in the Ozarks in late 1964.
From Fort Polk, he was moved to Fort Riley, Kan., where he had medical training. He was then attached to the First Infantry Division.
He recalls that some soldiers took tests to determine their interests. He didn’t get that chance.
The Army selected for him medical-related duties in Southeast Asia—a place he knew very little about. At age 22, he landed in a remote area of Vietnam as part of the First Medical Battalion.
The veteran explains how each company would go with a different battalion and set up a field hospital. Their assigned duties were to clean around an area and set up medical tents, he recalls. Before they set up medical operations, their site had to be cleared of obstructions like ant hills, for example.
As for medical training, Billy says there really wasn’t much time. And there was no such thing as any American found in the jungle being noncombatant; he was issued a military rifle.
The most dreaded jungle encounter, as history notes, were the Viet Cong (known simply by troops as ‘The VC.’) “They would come up at night and shoot at us,” Floyd recalls.
As a result, he naturally witnessed a lot of death and dying. But he’s lived long enough now to know “you get over it.”
Of course he has unhappy memories, such as seeing deceased soldiers piled up in green body bags. His job was to search the bodies for personals, then place them in another transport bag.
There are some elements which just stick with a person, even after all these years, he recalls. “The smell . . . . It was hot in the tent. I think that’s what you remember, more.” Some of the smells were associated with foot rot, the injuries, etc.
Billy remembers working with artillery on one side and supply and transport on the other. Yet, there were times a medic could feel quite alone in the jungle, he recalls.
“We did everything ourselves. We didn’t have any infantry or anything like that.”
Truth is, and history notes, the jungles were overrun with the enemy during the time he and many others was there. “You always prayed . . . afraid someone was going to come up behind you and slit your throat. You would be sitting out there by yourself in the pouring down rain. You couldn’t see anything.”
He doesn’t recall the deaths of any close friends. Some in his outfit did earn Purple Hearts, though he was not one.
The local veteran surmises, “I think more were killed in a year in Vietnam, than the whole time in Iraq.”
This veteran says he had no desire to continue in the medical field. He’s living proof that life does go on after war, he says.
He feels blessed to have returned to Bedford County in 1966. At that time, the number of U.S. military personnel still in South Vietnam totaled over 180,000.
Like most returning to the states, this Vietnam veteran was not met with happy fanfare. His boots first stepped onto California soil.
He recalls how the Vietnam War soldiers were not well received, especially on commercial flights. “If they wanted, then, they could kick us off the plane.”
He remembers how the U.S. government fed soldiers like himself steak upon their return from one of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history. While that might have been considered a noble gesture, he remembers his steak being “raw.”
After returning safely to Bedford County, Floyd served 2 years in the Tennessee National Guard, which completed his military obligations to Uncle Sam. He was done.
Billy shares that he was proud to receive the Good Conduct, the Sharp Shooter and the Expert (rifle) medals for his service. With a smile, he said he received the Good Conduct medal for causing the military “no trouble.”
There are stories to tell about that part of his military experience, but this veteran chooses to save that talk for another day. “I just did what I had to do there and came home.”
A ‘regular’ citizen
In 1967, the local soldier married Linda McGee; they have 2 children and 4 grandchildren. The Floyds have continued to live and work in Bedford County their entire marriage.
Billy went to work for Bradley and Son and then American Can Co. (now Albea.) He retired after 40 years. Linda worked as a supervisor at Economy Pencil in Shelbyville, which is now closed.
About to celebrate his 80th birthday, Billy can generally be found tending around 40-head head of cattle. “I still work every day. I just don’t get paid for it.”
Since Linda wasn’t a part of Billy’s military career, she listens attentively as he talks about his time in Vietnam. The stories are tough to hear, no doubt, she explains.
Billy Norris Floyd — a strong, hard-working veteran, husband, father, grandfather and farmer - is adamant about not depending on government handouts. That comes from his upbringing—a belief in hard work.
Agree with it, or not, that’s just the way he rolls.
But certainly, the Vietnam War has etched something similar to a Dumas painting in his mind. (Dumas is famous for her depictions on canvas of social and political imagery.)
Least how could such a good soldier forget? He has not and simply explains, “I had good times. I had bad times. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
With that being said, this veteran was off to his farm work.