Roland Hayes grew up in Lackawanna, New York, where his father worked in a Chevy plant and his mother was a telephone operator. Recalling his high school experience, he notes, “I loved high school, but high school didn’t love me.” An incident led to his leaving school, and he enlisted in the Army to see the world. He enjoyed basic training at Ft. Dix, loved the rifle range, hated fire guard, and became a “greasy spoon,” a cook – an airborne cook to be exact. His first assignment was Germany, but he received an Article 15 for going AWOL, followed by 30 days of hard labor and a transfer to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where he reported to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. As a cook, he was assigned to the advanced party and was the only passenger on his C-141, which was loaded with equipment. Arriving at Phuoc Vinh, he was the night baker until an incident involving a drunk First Sergeant and a coffee urn resulted in Roland’s reassignment to the infantry. He was transferred to B Company, and OJT (On the Job Training) served as his introduction to life as a grunt. On his first air assault mission in the Mekong Delta, he jumped out of the helicopter and became stuck in the chest-deep water and mud. The helicopter hovered low so he could grab a skid and be pulled out of the muck. That was his first experience in combat. During his tour, he was wounded three times. The first time he was wounded, he felt as if he was watching the experience in slow motion. The third time he was wounded was in the toughest combat he experienced in Vietnam when they walked into a machine gun nest. After he left Vietnam, he remained in the Army until 1998.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood and his service during the Vietnam War. He describes some experiences with racism in America, but acknowledges that he did not encounter much discrimination “in the boonies.” He reflects on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he experienced it in the Army. He discusses leaving Vietnam, and holding a flight attendant’s hand when he became emotional about the Soldiers they left behind. Finally, he shares the reasons why he attends reunions, and highlights what his service means to him.