Hello. I am Pastor Sherrell L. Byrd, Jr. And I am so happy that you have found our web-site. As Pastor of the Southern Missionary Baptist Church, I want to welcome you to our church. I grew up right here in the city of Madison, Illinois, attending it's schools and returning here to pastor a very humble and wonderful church. My wife, Mauristine and I want to invite you to visit with us as we praise and worship the Lord together. I have provided my testimony below. I hope that it will be encouraging to you because God has blessed me. And I know that He will bless you too!
I GOTTA TESTIMONY!
God has always has His hands on me as I grew up in the city of Madison, Illinois. I did some crazy and dangerous things. I wouId climb onto neighbors roofs so that I could jump off for fun. I would hop train cars, play gun powerder and bullets. I loved making cross-bows wirh arrows that would penetrate doors, put fire crackers in the rear pockets of people, and fire rocks from the handle bars of my bike with cherry bombs. I nearly lost my life doing foolish and dangerous things. There was a time when an old man put a gun in my face when I destroyed his garden as a teenager. I would sometimes cheat to pass a test as a student, fight bullies, and play tricks on people. I remember putting thumb tacks in the seats of fellow class mates in school. Yet I thought that I was a good kid. I just loved adventure. I loved taking chances. I was the oldest of four. Three boys and one girl. My parents were hard working folks. But God had a plan for my life.
I was drafted into the Army in 1968. I grew up on war movies like Combat and others but never imagined I would see actual combat in my lifetime. Life for me was good. I drag raced on Sundays, worked at the Chevrolet Assembly Plant in St. Louis and made good money. But a letter came in the mail one day and ordered me to report for induction. I trained for combat at Fort Ord, California, then at a base that taught more killing techniques. And off I went to Vietnam as a combat infantryman.
But let me back up for a moment. Before going to Vietnam I was allowed to go home for about a week. During that time I went to see a family friend, Mother Ada Turner. She was short, yet Holy Ghost filled. Sanctified! She anointed my head with oil and we held hands as she asked God to watch over me and bring me back home. Then she said, in her low sweet voice, "Sherrell, you got to be saved!" I told her that I attended church sometimes. She replied, "That's fine but that not the same!" Then she told me to read Psalms 91 as often as possible and I promised her that I would.
We landed at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam as it was being attacked that night. What a first impression. Dead bodies on the wire. I was flown to the DMZ, some 400 miles north, and became a member of the A company, Fifth Infantry Division. (1/61th Infantry, 5th Infantry Division, Mechanized Inf.) This was a mechanize unit. Now I was about to experience real combat. In war you're in trouble if you don't have God with you. I know what it's like to take a life, see men blown apart, crawl in leech infested rice paddies, see people suffer and die. I've taken out ambushes, blown people away with mines and wanted more excitement. Shooting people was easy. War is a terrible thing! As a young soldier I felt powerful. I was somebody. But there were times when I was afraid too! The enemy was well trained and was willing to die for his or her country. You would often smell death in the air from bodies left in the fields. You never forget that! Some guys would cut off ears or fingers as a trophy. This war led to drug abuse and drinking.
I have had the enemy step over me in the dark without stepping on me. That's God at work! I have stood before four North Vietnamese soldiers in the dark jungles without being seen. That's God at work! I have fought in firefights from evening to morning, none-stop, and lived to tell about it. That's God at work! One night we called in for fire support and the Battle Ship, New Jersey, dropped shells so close to our position that dirt and limbs rained down on us. That's God's grace! I've seen men blown open right in front of me and held their hands to encourage them. At Khe Sanh we were surrounded and fought for our lives all night long. I know that was God at work! You see things you thought you'd never see. Snakes, tigers, large poisonous insects, quicksand, apes, booby traps, mines and other things. They were everywhere. The enemy would come at you with bombs strapped around their waist. There were so many ways to die.
Then I began to wonder if I would make it out alive. I was wounded in the past. My hearing was not all that great. I could not hear all that great on ambushes. Then comes June 13, 1969. I was blown into pieces. I remember it well. I attempted to get up but couldn't. I struggled to get up and something was wrong. I began taking inventory. I could not see! So I used my left hand to feel my left leg. It was gone! I felt bone. The right leg was nearly gone at the knee. I had no idea that the top of the right arm had been torn off and my chest torn up. I found out later that my left eye was full of shrapnel and dirt and that my right eye had been blown from its socket. My face was shredded, leaving a hole in my forehead. And I was dying. My life was about to end all because one of our men tried to commit suicide. He blew us both up!
Suddenly I found myself in this amazingly bright light. I felt no pain at all. Just peace! It was wonderful. Then I heard music. Edwin Hawkins', "Oh Happy Day" was what I heard. I loved hearing it over Armed Forces Radio. I felt nothing but peace. Then a figure came to me out of the midst of the light. He stretched his hands towards me. I could not make out his face but he told me that it was not my time. "You have not accepted me and this is your last time." Then he drifted back into the light and faded away and I found myself lying on the jungle floor in pain again. Those who rushed to my aid told me years later that I was calling on Jesus to save me. They were right! I asked the Lord to save me. I did not want to die and go to Hell. He spared my life and saved my soul. The first one to get to me was my friend, Douglas "Doc" Haney. He worked hard to save my life. I remember being placed on a Dust Off, this is a Med-evac helicopter used to get the wounded off the battle field and to a field hospital. They would not put me out, but kept asking me questions to keep me alert. I was later given what was considered, Last Rites but God would not allow me to die. From there I was flown out over the ocean to the Hospital Ship, U.S.S. Repose. They also worked hard to save my life. The Doctors and dedicated Nurses on this ship were outstanding and caring. I love them all. They would sit up with me and hold my hand, encourage me and write letters to my parents. They were a God Sent. Two Purple Hearts are an honor, but God spared me for greater things.
God allowed me to go to college and get a degree in education. Attending Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville was not easy. I wanted to drop out due to pain and anger. I felt ashamed of the way I looked and limped. But God placed people there to encourage me. He blessed me with a wife who was understanding and supportive. In Vietnam I turned to drinking and drugs. God took that away. He can do the same for you too! Just ask Him. I began teaching in 1979. Again, I wanted to quit. My stump bled and was infected from time to time. I could feel blood and fluids splashing around within my artificial leg. Flash-backs were continual. But God's grace is sufficient! Life has been a struggle, yet on May 27, 2009, God blessed me to retire from 30 years of teaching. As I look back on these past 40 years I must admit that they were not always easy. Trials, tribulation, testing, waiting and blessings were there so that God could make me a better person. I learned how to forgive, not just in word, but from the heart. From that day in Vietnam to this day, it has has been FORTY YEARS! Out of it all came blessing after blessing.
I've been a minister since 1988. I was called in 1974, but refused God's calling. God will not allow you to change His plans for you. Now I am the proud pastor of Southern Missionary Baptist Church of Madison, Illinois. They are a wonderful congregation of people who I love dearly. I pray that I will be as much of a blessing to them as they are to me.
I feel that I must also acknowledge my wife and sons, Landis, Sherrell III, and Anthony. The Lord blessed me with a kind, understanding and supportive wife. She has never considered me as disabled. She kept me going when I felt like giving up. I owe her so much. My boys, now men, respect me greatly and I'm proud of them.
Remember this, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28.
Several years ago, I was reunited with my friend Richard Carter, a top notch M-60 Gunner and Brother in Christ. This year, 2010, I have been reunited with some of my closest friends from our unit. Special thanks to Bob Zeissler, who tirelessly sought me out, Alan Bush, Richard Carter, Curtis Green, Lt. Charles "Chuck" Peabody, David Blackstone and a special thank you to my friend and Medic, Douglas "Doc" Haney for being there for me. I will never forget him. There's only one "Doc Haney! And because of Doug, I have been blessed to talk with our Battalion Surgeon, Major (Dr.) Bernard Master, who personally assisted me on the helicopter. On Tuesday June 1, 2010, Dr. Master gave me a detailed picture of our flight to a Marine hospital in Quang Tri. He told me about everything he did to save my life. Then he shared something profound with me. He informed me that I had died on the floor of the chopper. They had lost me! There were no vitals. I had lost too much blood and gone into shock. It was impossible to get another I.V. into my veins. They had collapsed. Wow! But before landing at Quang Tri, God brought me back. That explains the "bright light." I had died. Dr. Master has wondered all these years whether I lived. Now he knows. I am so grateful that God gave Doc. Haney and Maj. Master to aid me that day.
I am also grateful to Amy Wilkerson of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and Kristin Strubhart for getting me archived into the Library of Congress, The Illinois State Board of Education and the Vietnam History Project in Washington DC. My life's story is now a part of national history. I am humbled and honored. Also the the Khe Sanh Association for doing their story on me in 2013. And to Gussie and Wilbert Glasper who blessed me to receive the Madison County Illinois's Living Legend Award of 2013. That award brought me recognition throughout the entire year.
May the Lord Bless you and keep you! Pastor Byrd
P.S.: Mother Turner's prayers were answered. God did bring me back home. Better than I was before.
And to Elder Edwin Hawkins and Annette, You wrote that song for me! It will forever be an important part of my testimony, and you will always be in my heart. God Bless You!
This was written originally in June 2009. Updated January 2, 2014