Written on the Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney are 428 names. One of those names is Charles W. “Bill” Bryan. While the name may not mean much to a reader, Bryan was the best friend of retired U.S. Marine Ronnie “RD” Foster.
Bryan and Foster graduated from McKinney High School in 1966 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. The two 18-year-olds went through boot camp together in San Diego. However, they got separated shortly after camp. An entire year passed before Foster saw Bryan again at the San Onofre Beach Club on base at Camp Pendleton. They weren’t old enough to order beers, so the two friends caught up while drinking chocolate milkshakes.
But that was the last time Foster ever saw Bryan. While they both ended up fighting in the Vietnam War, their outcomes were different. Foster made it home; Bryan did not.
And it wasn’t until Foster ran into an old friend, who had forgotten what happened to Bryan, years later in 2004 that he remembered something he’d once heard before: “A soldier is not dead until he's forgotten.”
And with that, he spearheaded a movement to create McKinney’s Veterans Memorial Park.
“It means a lot to me that we can remember those guys,” Foster said. “I remember them every day, but to most people, it's just a yearly thing on Memorial Day.”
RD the Marine
Foster, a “lifetime McKinney boy,” served in the Philippines, Okinawa and Vietnam during his three years in the Marine Corps. After those three years, he got the rank of corporal, came home to McKinney and started a family.
But Foster joined the military for a reason no one would ever suspect — to become a writer. An avid reader starting at a young age, Foster loved adventure books. And he knew that if he wanted to become a writer of action-packed books, he needed to experience adventure for himself.
But he may have gotten more experience than he bargained for. While in Vietnam, Foster was a member of a trucking outfit, where he and others ran convoys around the northern part of South Vietnam. Armed with either an M-16 or an M-60 machine gun, Foster rode shotgun as he and his fellow Marines took cargo and supplies to the outposts.
“It was a pretty exciting time running up and down those roads there,” Foster said. “There [were a] lot of snipers and a lot of mines planted in the road. Those are the main things we had to watch out for.”
Somehow, the snipers and mines weren’t the scariest part of his time in Vietnam. Sometimes, rockets hit the base camp at night. The rockets made a “screaming sound” so he could hear them coming from miles away. On top of the rocket’s noise, the base’s radar would pick it up and set off an alarm. Naturally, he’d wake up out of a deep sleep and run for cover while half awake.
“There's not much you can do about that,” Foster said. “You would just run and jump in the bunker and hope they don't put one right on top of the bunker.”
Veterans Memorial Park
After Foster and a few other veterans realized there wasn’t a veteran’s memorial in McKinney, they started a project to fund one. Foster said it took them seven years, but they raised over $2 million to build the Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney. This year marks the park’s 10th anniversary.
The 428 names engraved into the black granite are all people from Collin County who went off to service and didn’t come home, Foster said. It includes those who served before World War I through the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan. Not all of them died in combat. Some died during military training or from the influenza pandemic from 1918-1919 during World War I.
“It's a big deal to me and a lot of other people because I lost some good friends in Vietnam,” Foster said. “We had five kids from McKinney High School class of 66 who were killed and didn't come home.”
Behind the scenes, many don’t know that Foster is responsible for every single name on that memorial. He spent countless hours at the McKinney Library digging through microfilm archives to find every single name he could. Foster has also written four books about the stories behind the memorial’s names.
Although he’s had three heart attacks and battled cancer due to exposure to agent orange in Vietnam, he’s still going. He started playing guitar when he was 14 and is a lifelong musician. He’s written over 200 songs and still works with his band “The Red River Surfers.” Foster is currently writing his fifth book about McKinney veterans.
And he’s not done looking for names just yet.
“Just about every day, I do research,” Foster said. “I get up in the morning and get a cup of coffee and get started. I'm still finding names.”