Roy Masters was the youngest of nine children born and raised in St. Louis, MO. While his mother was pregnant with him in 1947, she lost her leg to gangrene, having it amputated just below the knee. Masters’ dad was a carpenter or cabinet maker, and his mother raised the last 4 to 5 children still at home while on crutches. Masters learned independence at a very young age by having a paper route at six years old. He stated, “I used to deliver papers with a wooden cart with cast iron wheels, and I would deliver papers and pick up sodie bottles in the street to make extra money.” By the age of ten, Masters was selling newspapers on the street corner where he was able to earn tips. He described, “We could make about two cents a paper, and we did it year-round. It would be so cold in the winter we would have a five-gallon drum, and we would burn wood and paper in there, and we would stand out in the middle of traffic when the lights turned red and sell papers that way.”
One frequent customer took a liking to him, admiring his work ethic; he offered him a job in his restaurant, Roy & Dells Grill. Masters waited tables there for the next few years and explained, “In 1963, 64, 65, a t-bone steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, with a vegetable and two pieces of bread with butter, was one dollar.” Masters worked in the restaurant from age 15 until he graduated high school at 17, in 1965. During his senior year, he participated in the COE program, a work-study program offered to students in their last year of high school. Masters recalled, “I used to go to all the games [in high school], but I could not be in any sports because I always had to work my job after school to have the money I wanted to do stuff.”
After graduating high school, Masters went to work at ChromeCraft, a company that eventually changed its name to Harvard Interior. The factory where he worked made lobby furniture, dining sets, and rocket launchers used in the Vietnam War.
In 1968, Masters decided to enlist in the United States Air Force, but while in the process of completing his paperwork, he received his draft letter for the United States Army. It came down to a coin toss, heads for the Air Force and tails for the Army. The coin landed on tails.
Masters arrived at Fort Polk Army Base in Vernon Parish, LA, in 1968 for Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training or AIT. After receiving his military occupational specialty or MOS papers, he was sent to Fort Sill Army post southwest of Oklahoma City. Masters was concerned about being assigned to infantry, but since Fort Sill was known for artillery, he was happy with the assignment. Unfortunately, in his last two weeks, the Army lost his MOS papers, causing a delay that took two weeks off his time from his 30 days leave with his family. He was ordered to stay on base and train for the possibility of being sent to Germany. Masters recalled that he thought it was great when he heard the news that he might be sent to Germany and could possibly avoid Vietnam. Especially since everyone on base with a last name starting with the letter “M” were sent to Germany. However, he soon discovered he was the only one they would send to Vietnam. Masters stated, “I may have pouted a little bit, but the Army said ‘tough.'”
The first stop for Masters was Da Nang Air Base, a primary entry point for most US troops landing in Vietnam. He was part of the Americal Division, 3d Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, on a team that operated the M114 155mm howitzer. They would provide artillery fire support to reinforce and maneuver forces. Masters stated, “The Marines would go in and take the hill, and then we [Army] would come in and secure it.”
Masters was in country for approximately two months when the monsoon season started, which is a 5 to 7-month period of exceptionally high rainfall. Once the monsoons started, he began having extreme knee pain making him unable to walk while he was in a dangerous combat zone. Masters stated, “They had a special chopper come in to fly me off to the base to the Chu Lai hospital, and they told me I shouldn’t even be in the Army because I had arthritis in my knees really bad and when I asked with a straight face how do I go home from here they told me in a pine box.” Masters became emotional and said, “I shouldn’t have passed the physical, but I wasn’t going to complain because I wanted to do something good for my country, and I didn’t want to be a reject. So I stuck it out.” After the hospital discharge, Masters returned to his company in the combat zone. He stated, “They told me I was doing good, and we got hit a lot on that hill. We got hit a lot.”
Masters got choked up as he explained how crucial mail call was to the soldiers in Vietnam, stating, “If GIs don’t get mail call or any connection from home, they are like a sitting duck in Vietnam and feel like they lost everything, mail call was something we looked forward too more than eating, and we didn’t have a lot of food to eat. But if you didn’t get mail call, you are out there like nobody loves you.”
During R & R Masters was able to visit Sydney, Australia, for seven days. When he returned to Vietnam, he realized his time was getting “short,” a term used for soldiers close to being able to leave Vietnam. That is when the Army offered him a deal. Masters recalled, “They said if I extend my time in Vietnam for one month after doing my year, they would give me six months early out of the service. I would get six months off my record but still get the credit of 2 years. So I said ok, put me down.” Masters realized that at that time, he wasn’t thinking of the worst-case scenario for himself in that one month of extended time in the combat zone. Three weeks later, they asked him if he was still planning on extending his time, and he decided he was ready to go home. “I left Vietnam knowing I had six more months to pull, but of the 3 or 4 guys I knew that extended, 2 of them were killed on their extension time.”
Upon return to the U.S., Masters was stationed for his last six months at Fort Hood, TX. He was still experiencing knee problems and recalled, “They [Fort Hood] rolled out the red carpet for me. I guess they figured they owed me something.” Masters explained how he spent the next six months undergoing different knee procedures stating, “They drained fluid from my knees, gave me shots in my knees, and when I was discharged in April, they told me they wanted me to follow up by getting plastic knee replacements.” However, he eventually decided against the knee replacements stating, “I still have the same knees I went over there to Vietnam with.”
After being honorably discharged in 1970, Masters returned to work at ChromeCraft before taking a new position at Hunter Engineering. Three years later, he married his wife, Kathy. Masters spent the next 18 years working for a company that supplied beauty aids for grocery stores and raising a family in the suburbs. The couple had two daughters and later three grandchildren. Masters, who had been working since the age of six, also worked for Theodore Bakery, Dolly Madison, and Hostess, to name a few.
In 2012, after 39 years of marriage, Masters lost his wife to cancer. Masters stated, “I loved my wife, and we had a wonderful marriage. I went for six months living in limbo, and I was depressed.”
During a high school reunion, Masters met a woman named Sharon. They graduated together but had never known each other. Sharon worked at an insurance company and led a grief share session at a local church. Unfortunately, she lost her husband in a motorcycle accident in 2000. Masters asked his daughters’ advice and started going to grief share with Sharon. Eventually, Masters realized he and Sharon had several mutual friends, and Sharon even knew many of Kathy’s family members. Masters stated, “My mind was going in two ways. I was depressed over losing my wife but happy.” Masters got emotional as he explained, “She invited me to go to church when I gave up on God after losing Kathy.” Masters described how it felt as if his late wife led him to Sharon, knowing he was lonely and too young to be a widow. Master said, “We dated for three years. She was 100% Christian, and we kept it clean and sweet and fell in love.”
In late 2014, Masters retired full-time and married Sharon. Masters enjoys time with his children and grandchildren, driving around in his classic convertible car, going to car shows, hanging with friends, and vacationing in Florida for two months every year. He loves to work hard and make people laugh and admits he dislikes paperwork and probably talks too much.
When asked how he felt about his military experience, Masters expressed, “Vietnam was probably one of the best things that I can relate to that made me grow up and made me more of a man. After the service, we were called every name in the book, and I stood up, and I was still proud of my country, and I held my head high, and I got through it.” He continued, “I think the best thing that can happen is for kids to get military experience before they go out in the world and think it is a free world. No. People have to pay a price for this freedom, and our servicemen pay the price for it.”
Veterans Care Coordination is proud to recognize Roy L. Masters for his service to our country. We are privileged to have the opportunity to share the stories of our nation’s heroes. Thank you for your service, and welcome home.