By SONYA ROBERTS-WOODS
Some 50 years later, Winfred “Bucky” Traylor can still hear the deafening sounds of war.
A decorated Vietnam veteran, Traylor is also a distinguished, three-time Purple Heart recipient. Although the accolades are impressive by any military standard, the price Traylor has had to pay over the years has come with great physical and emotional sacrifice.
The Cason native grew up as the youngest of three children born to Dyke and Odessa Doddy Traylor. He has fond memories growing up with his older twin sisters, Charlene and Darlene Traylor, “We had a great childhood growing up in Cason,” Traylor said. “Back then, people helped each other out and shared whatever they had. Everybody would help raise everybody else’s kids and nothing was ever said. You certainly can’t do that today.”
Until the eighth grade, Traylor attended Century Grove School in Cason. He then transferred to Daingerfield High School where he graduated in 1967. Before walking across the stage, Traylor, who also played football as a Blue Tiger, knew exactly where he was headed next.
“I got my (draft) papers while I was still in high school,” Traylor said. “I left for the service June 31.”
At the induction post-ceremony in Dallas, Traylor, who was originally signed up to join the Army, had the opportunity to choose a different branch. He chose to become a Marine Corps.
“Like a dummy, I chose the Marine Corps not really knowing just how hard the training would be,” Traylor said. “I saw them all dressed in their blues and wanted to be just like them.”
After eight weeks of basic training in San Diego, Traylor quickly got the chance to be just like them receiving orders to head straight to Vietnam.
“It was a very nervous experience for me,” Traylor said. “I was just a country boy. This was the first time I had left home. I wasn’t at all prepared for what was about to happen to me. Sure, I had been through basic training, but my mind still couldn’t fully grasp what would happen next.”
What happened next will forever be etched in Traylor’s mind. While flying over the Vietnamese countryside, Traylor vividly remembers wondering why there were huge holes in the ground. He later realized those holes were actually large craters left after countless bombing attacks—and that was just the beginning of his journey.
“It’s still hard to describe what Vietnam was like,” Traylor said. “I had never witnessed anyone die right before my eyes like that. Vietnam forever changed me.”
Once in the war-torn region, Traylor’s unit was tasked with securing the city of Huế. Centrally located near the border between North and South Vietnam, Huế came under significant fire during what is known as the Tết Offensive of 1968.
“My unit had to go in and get the others out,” Traylor said, “but by the time we were headed out in our truck convoys, the bridges had been blown up so we didn’t really have a way out. We literally had to fight our way out.”
While fighting in Vietnam, Traylor suffered injuries on three separate occasions. His first two attacks came within minutes of each other. The first hit left him injured on the right side of his face after shrapnel flew into his eyes. He was also hit on the back of his neck. Before he could receive medical treatment, Traylor was hit again in his right leg. He was later medivacked to a hospital ship where he received medical care for almost two months. He left the hospital with a patch over his right eye and orders to return to combat.
“I found out later on that I should never have been sent back out, but they did,” Traylor said. After my third hit, they immediately snatched me out of service.”
Hospitalized for two weeks, Traylor, who spent a total of10 months in active combat, eventually traveled to Okinawa, Japan before finally returning stateside. He later trained other troops for combat before his discharge in April 1970.
Despite returning home, one particular ambush still haunts Traylor to this day. Inside a Huế village building, Traylor recalls that one of his unit mates and close friends made the fateful decision to go ahead of him upstairs. Moments later, Traylor heard gunshots. He walked to the next level and discovered his friend had been hit.
“I pulled him up close to me and felt him when he took his last breath,” Traylor said. “I can still feel him to this day. That should have been me. That bullet was meant for me. Through it all and only by the help of the Lord did I make it out.”
Back home in Daingerfield, Traylor didn’t quite receive the warmest reception. He and two cousins decided to go to a local eatery, Blue Moon Café, for cheeseburgers and drinks.
“I had on my uniform and we were headed in the front door to be served when we were stopped and told that we had to go around back if we wanted to be served. My cousin had to grab me to keep me from going to jail. Here it was I had just fought for my country and even then I couldn’t be served with dignity like everyone else.”
Undeterred by the snares of segregation, Traylor’s luck soon turned around when he went on a blind date with Naples native Shirley Sampson. The two dated for a couple of years and would later tie the knot on Oct. 21, 1973. Before becoming a husband, though, Traylor ended up with a job—by accident.
“I was taking a cousin of mine to Lone Star Steel because he was looking for a job,” Traylor said. “I was just sitting in the waiting room when one of the guys came out and asked me if I wanted a job. I really didn’t, but then he trapped me into it. It was a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
For the next five years, Traylor worked at the plant.
“When the furnace would blast, it sounded just like a bomb so I would holler ‘incoming,’” Traylor said. “My mind flashed right back to combat. The guys at work would ask what was wrong with me. I was a nervous wreck. It was the wrong place for a soldier.”
After leaving Lone Star Steel, Traylor worked for over a decade to get military disability. Ironically, he was able to qualify for Social Security benefits as a results of his military injuries before receiving full disability from the VA (Veterans Administration).
The father of four sons, Traylor and his wife took in Traylor’s sister’s son when the child was only two after losing her to complications from sickle cell anemia at age 40. Today, sons Thalmus, Charles, Nigel and Jamille, are all grown up.
“He’s our son just like the other three,” Traylor said. “We raised them as brothers and that’s what they are.”
Traylor has learned to rely on his family, but most importantly, his faith in God to get him through the tough times.
“I often ask myself ‘why not me?’”, he said. “But over the years, I’ve learned not to question God. He left me here for a purpose and it’s been to help my fellow man. I know if I can go into a foreign country and fight for somebody I don’t even know, surely I can do something for my own.”
Family and friends recently did something for Traylor when they recently gathered to help him celebrate his 70th birthday. Born July 24, 1947, Traylor, on his birthday each year, pauses to remember the sacrifice of one fellow Marine.
“Whenever I celebrate my birthday, I celebrate for him and me,” Traylor said, “because I know I wouldn’t be here if he had not gone first up those stairs. God spared my life and so I celebrate that gift.”
“You know how sometime you wonder if you’ve made a difference in someone’s life or you’re not sure you always feel the love from those around you,” he said. “Well, I really felt that love that day at the birthday party. I saw the love that day. I have to thank God for the gift to see all the love in that room that day.”
Over the years, Traylor has also had a gift for local activism. Several years ago, he and other Daingerfield NAACP members, including Jewel Roney, Bo Lyons and H.L. Mitchell, sued the local school district for discrimination after claims that administration had been unable to find qualified African-American teachers.
“Where has that kind of activism gone?” Traylor said. “This younger generation doesn’t know what freedom is all about. Freedom ain’t free. It has come with a price. That’s why I get so upset when I see some of these young men with their britches hanging down. It also upsets me that young people don’t know about veterans. Our pain and sacrifice should be a symbol of pride.”
A deacon at New Birth Baptist Church in Daingerfield, Traylor has dealt with lots of personal loss in his life. Cancer claimed the lives of both of his parents and both sisters. Another family loss came last year when he lost his cousin and longtime confidante, Semia Doddy Young.
“Semia was my corner post,” Traylor said. “She held the fence together. I could go to her and just talk. Her mother (Merlene Doddy) was the same way. My mother died when I was only 17 and so I would often go over to Semia’s house to talk to her mother. Her mother was just a good listener and Semia was just like her. God gave her the same gift. Semia and I were cousins, but she was really like a sister to me.”
Traylor accompanied Doddy, who taught school in Daingerfield for over three decades, to many of her doctor appointments when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“Every trip she took I took with her,” he said. “It was like a part of me passed on with her. I miss her so much. She was truly my rock.”
In years past, Traylor has been interviewed by newscaster Joan Hallmark for a segment on KLTV’s Freedom Fighters about local veterans. He is also featured in the 2008 book, Marines Under Fire, written by Kenneth N. Jordan Sr. The book chronicles the personal accounts of those who fought in Vietnam in places like Con Thien, Hue and Khe Sanh.
In addition to his three Purple Hearts, Traylor has also received medals for achievement, good conduct, national defense service and for Vietnam service. Traylor also has a combat action ribbon and foreign awards for a Vietnam campaign medal with a 1960 device and two Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit citations.
“I’m grateful for the honors, but it’s been a huge burden on me, and I’m sure so many other veterans, all these years,” he said. “It bugs me still to this day, but I know God is not done with me yet.”