Houston attorney David Nelson always knew he had a special friend in Lee Roy Herron. When the two met in the seventh grade in Lubbock, they became entwined in a fateful, yet inspiring tale of just how powerful a friendship can become. While juniors at Texas Tech University, Herron convinced Nelson to join the Marine Corps Officer Training program in 1965. Two years later, Nelson transferred to the Marine Corps Judge Advocate program, where he started his law career. Meanwhile, Herron, after attending Vietnamese language training school in California, plunged into the teeth of the Vietnam War thousands of miles from home. In 1969, Herron was killed in action after taking the place of a wounded officer in a heated battle. Nelson, recovering from a three-story fall in a roofing accident at the time, received the tragic news and many questions surrounding the nature of his friend’s death went unanswered for the next 28 years. Nelson spoke with the Texas Bar Journal about his own time in the Corps, the story of Herron that he finally pieced together, and the meaning of Herron’s sacrifice for his country.
Describe how you felt in the late 1960s, as the U.S. was fully embroiled in the Vietnam War. The stress of law school combined with the tension of wartime must have been difficult to bear.
When I joined the Marine Corps on October 21, 1965, it was just months after President Lyndon Johnson had ordered thousands of troops to Vietnam. I was a junior at Texas Tech University and most of the country supported the war. But by the time of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, I was in law school at SMU, the war had dragged on for three years, and U.S. enthusiasm was waning. In my last semester during the spring of 1970, the tragic killing of Kent State University students occurred. I could hardly believe we had been embroiled in Vietnam over five years and protests against the war were rampant, including on the campus at SMU. And there I was, about to go on active duty in the Marine Corps. Needless to say, times were intensely stressful, both for me personally and for our country.
What do you remember most about Lee Herron? What were his greatest qualities as a person and a friend?
I met Lee Herron in the seventh grade at R.W. Matthews Junior High School in Lubbock. We became fast friends, although Lee was extremely competitive in all areas of his life, including sports and academics. He was the type of friend that would tackle you hard in football practice and then cheerfully lift you up, asking if you were OK. He genuinely cared for his friends’ well-being. In mid-season in the ninth grade, he broke his arm in a tough game and refused to leave until the coach forced him to go to the hospital. Even at a young age, Lee was extremely “gung-ho,” to coin a Marine Corps phrase.