Jacky Bayne died in Vietnam a lifetime ago. Twice.
Today – 47 years after he was twice declared dead, twice put into a body bag – Bayne is 69, with one leg gone and an arm that does not work.
Jacky Bayne is still kicking.
“I kick with one foot because that’s all I got,” he said. “You been declared dead twice in a war, you don’t stop living after that until the good Lord tells you it’s time. You live every day like it could be the last.
“I know – I had the last day twice, and I’m still here.”
There are 58,300 names on the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall – a roughly half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., that will be on display for four days this week at Veterans Park in downtown Fort Mill.
The name Lindell “Butch” Stegall, Jacky Bayne’s second cousin, is on that wall. He was killed in action just three months before Bayne was wounded.
“He was a Marine, and he got killed in April of ’67,” Bayne said. “I found out in a letter from home that he was dead. I was supposed to die in the same place. They said I did die there. Twice.”
Spec. Jacky Bayne was an Army volunteer from just over the creek outside the town limit of Fort Mill, in Lancaster County. As an infantry dog handler in Vietnam, his job was to locate mines and other explosives that would kill and maim soldiers and Marines.
He was a lean, wiry, tough soldier who never went anywhere – even to the latrine – without Bruno, a German shepherd trained to detect explosives.
“My job was always to keep the men safe,” Bayne said. “The objective was to keep them alive, me and Bruno.”
A mission on July 16, 1967, in the jungles outside the port city of Chu Lai lasted more than 24 hours with no sleep.
“The last thing I remember is Bruno and me got blown up,” Bayne said.
The mine blew up Bayne. It killed Bruno.
But the Army thought Bayne was dead, so he was put in a body bag. At a field hospital, Sgt. Bruce Logan was tagging Bayne’s toe to identify him and a young corpsman when for reasons unknown, he checked the body.
He found a faint pulse.
“They rushed me to the field hospital, but by then my pulse was gone, so they pronounced me dead again,” Bayne said. “I met Logan long after that. He told me what happened.”
Before the field embalmers could start on Bayne, though, another pulse, weak, was found. A bit of blood came from the shredded leg. He was rushed back to the field hospital one more time, and this time, nobody came with a body bag.
“A month later I woke up, and I was at the Walter Reed Army hospital here in the states,” Bayne said. “I thought I was a prisoner of war, maybe off in some camp someplace, and what do I hear but my mother’s voice. Then I asked if any of my men got killed. I was told no, that the only one that died was Bruno.
“Bruno died, and I gave my leg and more, but those soldiers did not die. It was all I cared about then, that me and Bruno did our duty.”
“It’s about all I care about now, really. Your job is to save the men, and that’s what Bruno and me did.”
At that Army hospital in 1967, Bayne weighed 70 pounds. He and his family were told that because of the loss of blood to his organs and brain, he would never be more than a “vegetable” if he did survive. Bayne suffered brain damage that affected his left arm and other functions – but he survived 1967 and several surgeries, a real-life American Vietnam War veteran.
Butch Stegall’s mother and father, Minnie and Henry Stegall, helped take care of Bayne after his own parents became ill and died in the early 1970s. This family, who had lost one of their two sons to war, made sure Bayne was not without care and love.
“That’s what family does,” Minnie Stegall, Bayne’s cousin, said all these years later, “take care of each other.”
Minnie Stegall will go this week to read her son’s name on the traveling wall in the family’s hometown of Fort Mill. She will have a place of honor as a Gold Star Mother – the mother of a child killed in combat.
Bayne said he will always be indebted to the Stegalls for their help.
Henry Stegall worked for the Celanese textile mill in Rock Hill. The Stegalls introduced Bayne to a pretty girl named Patsy Lane who worked at the mill, and by 1974, Jacky and Patsy were married in front of a church packed to the rafters. Bayne stood up that day on his one leg and said, “I do” – and he still does.
“Forty years she’s taken care of me,” Bayne said.
Their marriage has never wavered.
“By the grace of God, we have had Jacky all these years,” Patsy Bayne said. “He never gave up. He still hasn’t. He loves the veterans. He’s their biggest supporter. He always worried about those who died, and he still worries about them.”
Bayne has received awards and been recognized by politicians. Baseball great Mickey Mantle once came to Bayne’s house to meet him. Bayne has talked to hundreds of groups about his near-death experiences in Vietnam.
To this day, all Bayne ever cares about after being so badly wounded and disabled – with every right to be upset at being sent to a war where he lost part of his body and his independence – is telling people how much he loves America.
“This is the greatest country in the world,” Bayne said. “Those men on that wall, they died for this great country, and I sure respect every one of them. Knew some of them close and personal. The dead, some of them I knew them in life. I knew what kind of great Americans they were.
“I saw what they did over there, what we had to do. I was right there with them.”
Bayne has his own opinion about politicians who start wars that are fought by the Jacky Baynes of the world, but he keeps them to himself.
“The veterans is who I care about,” Bayne said. “The ones that got hurt or killed, those who came back to try to live afterward. These wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, too. The soldiers come back; we better take care of them.”
Since its creation in 1982, Bayne has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington twice. He saw the traveling wall when it was on display at Winthrop University in Rock Hill in 2003. There are 36 names of York County residents killed in Vietnam on that wall, 11 of those from Fort Mill. There are more from Chester and Lancaster.
“That wall means something,” Bayne said. “Those people didn’t come back here to Fort Mill; I did. And I never will forget that somehow – it had to be God – I got the chance to get back here.”
After the traveling wall opens for public viewing in Fort Mill on Thursday, Bayne and his wife will make their way from their home to Veterans Park to read Bayne’s name on one of the commemorative bricks. Patsy will wheel Jacky through the grass to see the wall, where he will run his right hand, his good hand, over the names of the dead soldiers he knew – including his cousin Butch.
“America didn’t give up on me,” Bayne said. “The people around here didn’t give up on me. I died twice in Vietnam, but I’m still here. The people up there on that wall, they didn’t have the chance I got.
“I got my life back, and I still got it. They lost theirs. The wall is for them.”