For the last 25 years, James Edwards III, 65, has been a man on a mission.
The Vietnam veteran has been fighting for a memorial at Norfolk State University (NSU) to honor the Spartans “who have given their lives for their country on the battlefield.”
Progress was slow until Edwards, Class of ’69, teamed up with fellow NSU graduates William “Lin” Walton Sr., Class of ’66, and Edgar Farmer, Class of ’69, to co-chair the Veterans Memorial initiative.
With the help of NSU Alumni Association and its president, Shelvee Osborne, they raised over $7,000. The memorial will stand in front of the Harrison B. Wilson Administration Building.
Edwards is the pastor of Chesapeake’s New Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church. Half a lifetime ago, he was a platoon leader in Vietnam.
The battle for this memorial has been very personal.
Edwards was wounded twice in Vietnam. His license plate displays a Purple Heart with the message “2 N NAM.”
The pastor wears other scars you can’t see.
Every day of my life I carry two names with me - Linwood Carter and Alan “Pinkie” Boffman,” said Edwards. “We were in ROTC together at Norfolk State.”
All three went to Vietnam, but only Edwards returned.
A Claymore anti-personnel mine took Lt. Carter’s life
Born on Sept. 18, 1947, Carter grew up on Marshall Ave. in Norfolk.
He died in the arms of Sgt. Alvin Sanders in Vietnam on Oct. 21, 1970.
“He cared for his men even when many were from the Deep South and had no love for any black man let alone an officer,” remembered Sanders, now a businessman and ordained minister in Flushing, Mich.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. He gave me a chance to grow, and he has been one of the key models of leadership for me as I have gone forward in life,” he added.
Less than a year later, Lt. Boffman died in Laos.
Edwards last saw Boffman “under the Tidewater Hall (now G. W. C. Brown Hall) clock tower” at NSU. Edwards was headed for airborne school at Fort Bragg and Boffman was shipping out with the 101st Airborne for Vietnam.
“We were just kidding around and he said, ‘Now, don’t you go down to North Carolina and crash and burn,’” remembered Edwards. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about me. Don’t you go to Vietnam and crash and burn.’ I never saw him again.”
Boffman engaged in his first mission on March 18, 1971. It was also his last.
All day long, Capt. Keith Brandt and Lt. Boffman’s Cobra gunship provided air support for 88 South Vietnamese regulars who were pinned down in a bomb crater.
After refueling, the two aviators volunteered to lead the evacuation helicopters to the trapped soldiers.
Circling above while providing cover, they took intense fire and several hits from the North Vietnamese troops.
The last words to come from their gunship were, “I’ve lost my engine and my transmission is breaking up. Goodbye. Send my love to my family. I’m dead.”
Moments later their chopper burst into flames and crashed into the Laotian jungle. The battle summary report read: “Shot down, crashed and burned leading slicks to surrounded ARVNs in Laos.”
Those words haunt Edwards.
For nearly 20 years, the two aviators sat in their helicopter side by side. Their bodies were finally recovered on July 19, 1990.
Today, Brandt and Boffman are buried in the same grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Their names are chiseled in stone on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Carter is on Section 6W, Line 14, and Boffman is on Section 4W, Line 5.
“Before I leave this world, I’d like to read their names on a Veterans Memorial at the college,” Edwards said in a 2006 interview.
Before too long, he’ll be able to do just that.