More than a “thank you”

Alumnus created memorial after marine service in Vietnam

Marybeth Plaster and Emma Triana


Neelam Bohra, Co-Editor

Farms, cow pastures, and a nonexistent Highway 75. McKinney’s rural countryside in 1966 inspired then-senior RD Foster and his friend Bill Bryan to see the world. So, they joined the U.S. Marine Corps. They fought in Vietnam.

51 years later, RD has created the McKinney Veterans Memorial in honor of all the people who served the U.S. in Collin County.

“We were both adventurous kids, ready to see the world,” RD said. “McKinney was just a small place, and we were ready to get out. Neither of us had really been anywhere, so we decided to join the Marine Corps and see what happens.”

He and Bill went through boot camp together, but were separated for the next eight months. They didn’t reunite until waiting to leave for Vietnam at a California base.

“I went down to a beach club on the marine corps base, where you could get a beer and a hamburger and all that,” RD said. “Bill was just waiting to go to Vietnam too. We decided, we would see what surfing is like. We went out, borrowed surfboards, and paddled out. Here comes some big waves, first one came. I went underwater. And I tumbled to the bottom—the exact same thing happened to him. We decided as McKinney boys, we weren’t meant to be surfers.”

They stopped trying to surf, and went back to the club.

“We decided we’d go in there and buy each other a beer,” he said. “But, we couldn’t get one—they wouldn’t let us. We weren’t old enough. We ended up getting chocolate milkshakes instead. And that was the last time I saw him. And the thing is, Bill never did get old enough to have a beer.”

Bill did not make it back from Vietnam. Instead, RD came back alone, and had trouble returning to daily life. He struggled to find a job.

“When I came back, if you were a veteran, nobody wanted to hire you,” he said. “All the news stories and TV shows—they turned on us and made us the villains and said we were doped killers. But, we were just kids. McKinney boys. So, a friend of mine was driving 18-wheelers, and he got me a job driving with him, so I did that for a while.”

He also played for a band.

“When I was playing music, an old friend of mine bought an old bus, but he couldn’t drive it. He asked me to go on a trip with him, and I ended up driving the whole way. Once I did that, I got a call from this Blue’s guy who heard I was a pretty good driver, so I went out on the road with him, and I started getting calls from other bands. I did that, playing music, driving tour buses. And I wrote a book about that.”

And in 2004, an old high school friend reminded him of Bill Bryan, and inspired him to write a different kind of book.

“He said, ‘if I remember, you and Bill Bryan joined the Marines right out of high school,’ and he asked, ‘whatever happened to Bill?’ and I said. ‘Bill was killed in Vietnam.’ He said ‘oh, I forgot.’ And that’s what started it all,” RD said. “I started because I knew what happened to Bill, but no one knew the complete story.”

RD contacted two marines Bill saved before he was killed, one in Washington and the other in New Hampshire, to try and find the whole story.

“I was able to get them all to come to McKinney, and we sat in the living room, and everyone told their story,” he said. “We were able to put together the whole thing.
The last time these two marines had seen each other was the day Bill Bryan was killed. So for 35 years neither one had seen each other.”

He finally figured out they all were seriously wounded, and medevaced out to different hospitals. This made him want to find more.

“I had three other guys in my class of ‘66 who were killed in Vietnam,” RD said. “So, I wanted to find their stories. I was able to find 21 guys in Collin County who were killed in Vietnam. That’s what got the book going, and that’s how the memorial started.”

He published the book One Day as a Lion in 2007, and the memorial opened in 2011. Located in Veterans Memorial Park in Craig Ranch, it now has 388 names on it. It took seven years from his idea to its opening.

“I wrote letters, sent emails, and contacted city council people,” he said. “It took us a while, but it’s really amazing. At the very first meeting, I met people at the parks department and I first told them, ‘if we’re going to build this thing, it has to be first class. It has to fit on the mall in Washington DC with all the other monuments.’ And that’s what we got.”

Since creating the memorial, RD has continued to dedicate himself to giving veterans their recognition. He’s had portraits made of fallen heroes hung in the Collin County courthouse, and even changed the name of the courthouse to the Russell A. Steindam courts building after an Air Corp pilot from Plano who died in Vietnam. His friend since middle school, John Hardin, has seen it all happen.

“Bill was the first one in our class that we lost,” Hardin said. “He was a good friend of mine and RD’s. And RD named his first son Bill in honor of Bill Bryan. He wanted to make sure people knew to honor the fallen and he had a lot to do with that.”

Hardin attended the memorial site’s opening ceremony.

“They had generals and dignitaries and state representatives and everyone else, but they knew who was supposed to cut the ribbon,” Hardin said. “They gave RD the scissors, and he cut the ribbon. Because, it’s who RD is. He cares about people. And he doesn’t ask anyone to go up and shake his hand and say, ‘thank you for your service,’ because that’s what he signed up to do. He just wants to make sure that all the people who have given their ultimate sacrifice for service were honored. He’s just RD, a very humble and very decent man who I love like a brother.”

RD hopes to continue recognizing fallen heroes.

“I’m proud of everything I did,” he said. “I’ve made friends that I’m still close with after 50 years, Becoming a marine at 18 years old, I grew up fast. Bill and I graduated in May, and we left for boot camp 2 weeks later. We both grew up out in the woods, in the country around McKinney. I was out in the woods every day exploring, and some of the things I did out in the woods with BB gun, 20 years later I was doing it for real. And I’m proud of what I did.”