CARLSBAD – Army Capt. Roger Sawyers was flying low over the jungle of South Vietnam when he made the ultimate sacrifice.
The Carlsbad native was shot down in October 1967 as he served as “bird dog” pilot for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, scouting the enemy.
He was 28.
More than 50 years later, the story of Capt. Sawyers’ sacrifice lived on through a park dedicated in his honor in Carlsbad.
The former Cherry Lane Park in north Carlsbad was renamed Roger Sawyers Park, and a dedication ceremony was held Friday.
A display and plaque were unveiled to continue to educate residents about the life of the former co-captain of the Carlsbad High School football team.
The effort was spearheaded by Sawyers’ widow, Jane Frost, who said her high school sweetheart and first husband was the bravest man she ever knew.
“When Roger went there (to Vietnam), he didn’t tell me he was flying low. He said he was just flying high and taking pictures. I found out different,” Frost said. “He was a big hero. Roger was the bravest man. I feel like Carlsbad, all along, should have been honoring him.”
During his service, Sawyers was the recipient of many prestigious awards, including two Flying Crosses.
Dale Perini, who served as Sawyer’s co-captain on the Caveman team in 1957, said he remembered a man who was only about 5 feet 8 inches tall but had the best physique in school.
Sawyers was always tough and determined on the field, often staying in the game on both offense and defense, Perini said, and that tenacity learned through football carried on into the military.
“We did a lot of running. Sometimes, we never came out,” Perini said. “You had to be very tough, physically and mentally. That mental discipline fared him well in Vietnam. It gave him a lot of courage to do what he did.”
About 58,000 American men were killed in the war, and 400 bird dog pilots were shot down.
Twelve of Carlsbad’s men never returned home.
But Perini remembered Sawyer was his first close friend lost in the war.
He said he heard about Sawyers’ death on the radio.
“I remember the moment I heard Roger was killed,” Perini said. “Roger was always an influence on my life. It’s not just Roger that is being honored. It’s everyone who served.”
The ceremony also included a proclamation read by Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway, who commended Sawyers for his service and as a citizen of the city.
Sawyers was born in Artesia but spent most of his life in the Cavern City.
“We honor his heart and dedication in being an exemplary citizen,” Janway said. “He’s a Caveman through and through. His honor to this country is clear.”