Charles G. Boyd
In His Words…
“If there is one message I would like to express to those who are interested in the American POWs and their life in the prisons of Vietnam, it would be a thumbnail sketch of the essence of the fighter pilot (for that’s what most of us were.)
“First of all- let me make this clear-we were not heroes but, rather, we were just ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances. This being true, I would now contradict myself slightly and explain what I regard to be a somewhat extraordinary characteristic of most fighter pilots. The fighter pilots that I have known are, by and large, a fiercely individualistic breed of men. Whether this characteristic directs them toward a career flying fighter aircraft, or if it is merely something they develop through association in a society of professional fighter pilots, I do not know. But this I do know there is not a fighter pilot worth his salt who would not prefer to fly alone in a single-seat aircraft, relying totally on his singular skills, than to work as a part of a committee on any multi-seated air machine.
“And so it should not seem surprising that this breed of men would be as well-equipped as anyone to cope with the special problems of isolation. The enemy captors thought they could ‘divide and conquer;’ that without collective leadership we would not be able to maintain our resistance and our resolve. But they did not reckon with the individual integrity of the American fighter pilot.
“Our stories have now been told, and further elaboration on our intricate communication systems, our ‘through the walls’ education programs, and our gigantic mental projects would only be redundant. But if a testimony is to be made to this group of men, it should be a testimony to the individual spirit. We returned with our mental health through no thanks to our captors, but because the highest degree of achievement is possible only when man is imbued with a spirit of individualism.
“In this world of changing values where the individual dignity of man seems to be eroding in the society, I think you would do well to remember the example set by men who refused to compromise their individuality.” – (source:CFTNI Weekly Bulletin =E2=80=93 April 12,2013)
General Charles G. Boyd, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), is the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Center for the National Interest. He was President and Chief Executive Officer of Business Executives for National Security (BENS) from 2002 to 2010 and now serves on its Advisory Board as President Emeritus. Before joining BENS, he served as Senior Vice President and Washington Program Director of the Council on Foreign Relations.
General Boyd was commissioned through the Aviation Cadet Program in July 1960 and retired in 1995 after 36 years of service. A combat pilot in Vietnam, he was shot down on his 105th mission and survived 2,488 days as a prisoner of war. The only POW from that war to achieve the four-star rank, General Boyd’s final military assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief of U.S. forces in Europe. His other assignments as a General Officer include Vice Commander of Strategic Air Command’s 8th Air Force, Director of Plans at Headquarters U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C., and Commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He is a pilot with more than 4,000 flight hours.
Following his retirement from active duty, he served as the Director, 21st Century International Legislators Project for the Congressional Institute, Inc. and strategy consultant to then-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. In July 1998 he became Executive Director of the Hart-Rudman National Security Commission, the most comprehensive review of the national security structure and processes since 1947. The Commission foresaw the growing terrorist threat to the United States well before the September 11, 2001, attacks and advocated priority attention be devoted to homeland security.
His military decorations include the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with combat “V” and two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.
General Boyd is a native of Iowa. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and the Air War College, as well as the Program for Senior Executives in National and International Security at Harvard University.
General Boyd is married to Dr. Jessica Tuchman Mathews. He has a daughter and a son. – (source: The Center for National Interest (https://cftni.org/expert/charles-g-boyd/)
Following his retirement from the Air Force in 1995, Boyd served as strategy consultant to Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. From July 1998 he was executive director of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, whose final report in January 2001 predicted a growing threat to the United States from terrorism. He has also served as senior vice president and Washington program director of the Council on Foreign Relations.
From May 1, 2002, until December 31, 2009, he was the president and CEO of Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a national security public interest group. From December 14–17, 2009, Boyd led a delegation from BENS to Pyongyang, North Korea, to discuss economic issues with officials from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea government. Boyd remains involved with BENS as a member of the Board of Directors.
He is a member of the board of directors at defense electronics firm, DRS Technologies; graphics software firm, Forterra Systems; and venture capitalists In-Q-Tel, who support the work of the Central Intelligence Agency.
- 7/1961 – 10/1963 510th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines (F-100)
- 10/1963 – 8/1964 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, George Air Force Base, CA (F-105)|
- 8/1964 – 11/1965 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, KS (F-105)
- 11/1965 – 4/1966 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand (F-105)
- 4/22/1966 Shot Down in North Vietnam
- 2/12/1973 Released during Operation Homecoming
- 2/1973 – 8/1973 repatriation orientation
- 8/1973 – 6/1975, undergraduate student, Air Force Institute of Technology, University of Kansas
- 6/1975 – 6/1976 graduate student, Air Force Institute of Technology, University of Kansas
- 8/1976 – 5/1977 Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL
- 6/1977 – 6/1979 Special assistant to the chief of staff, Allied Forces Southern Europ/Executive officer to the chief of staff, Allied Air Forces, Southern Europe, Naples, Italy
- 6/1979 – 9/1980, Chief, Western Hemisphere Division, Directorate of Plans, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, DC
- 9/1980 – 6/1982 Deputy assistant director for Joint and National Security Council Matters, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.
- 6/1982 – 7/1984 Assistant director for Joint and National Security Council Matters, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.
- 7/1984 – 12/1986 Deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Ramstein Air Base, West Germany
- 12/1986 – 6/1988, 8th Air Force, Vice commander, Barksdale AFB, LA
- 6/1988 – 8/1989, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Director of Plans, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations, Washington, DC
- 8/1989 – 1/1990 Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Assistant deputy chief of staff for plans and operations, Washington, DC
- 1/1990 – 10/1992 Air University, Commander, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL
- 10/1992 – present, U.S. European Command, Deputy commander in chief, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany
- 1995 Retired USAF
Awards & Decorations
Air Force Cross
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster
Legion of Merit with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star with Valor Device and 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
Purple Heart with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
Air Force Commendation Medal
Order of the Sword
Rating: Command pilot
Flight hours: 2,400+
Military & Civilian Education
- 1977 Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
- 1986 Program for Senior Executives in National and International Security, Harvard University, MA
- 1975 BA, University of Kansas
- 1976 MA, University of Kansas
Boyd was about six months into his combat tour as an Air Force pilot when his 105th mission ended in a prison cell in Hanoi. On April 22, 1966, he had to eject from his plane after it was hit by enemy fire from the North Vietnamese. He was captured, then spent the next 2,488 days as a POW.
The treatment of American prisoners of war took a toll physically and mentally. Aside from interrogations that were often forms of torture, the isolation of prisoners from each other kept the POWs in the dark on what was happening in the world around them.
“I lived in a near-vacuum as a prisoner of war for seven years, being cut off from information, other than that which I could get from other prisoners,” Boyd said.
During Boyd’s time in captivity, the first astronauts walked on the moon. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. The Woodstock music festival and Watergate scandal made headlines and the Beatles broke up. News of some events may have made it to prisoners, but what came was scarce, and it arrived in a trickle.
Although prisoners were isolated – sometimes in solitary confinement, other times with one or two cellmates – and weren’t allowed to speak to each other, they still found ways to communicate. One early prisoner brought in a “tap code,” a system of tapping out letters on cell walls as a way to “talk” to men in neighboring cells. Words were communicated, letter by letter, in a combination of taps.
The tap code helped prisoners pass the time, bolstering morale, sharing knowledge, telling stories and jokes, spreading news, and even teaching new skills.
When Boyd found out that a prisoner two cells away knew Spanish, he used the tap code to learn a new language. A prisoner in the cell between them relayed the lessons and questions back and forth between Boyd and his teacher, tap by tap.
“It took a long time, but he gave me about 2,700 words of vocabulary, basic verb conjugation, pronunciation, syntax, et cetera,” Boyd said. “The big calluses on my knuckles from tapping so much lasted close to 10 years after I came home.”- (source: University of Kansas, Alumni Profile (Https://blog.college.ku.edu/alumni/alumni-profile-gen-charles-g-boyd-u-s-air-force-ret/)