As the music played in front of the Upsur County Courthouse, calmness and gratitude filled the air for Billy Wayne Machen.
The Navy SEAL lost his life in an enemy ambush when he was 27-years-old. Billy was a warrior. He always wanted to be a combatant. He went south to Saigon and he didn't last but a month and he was killed," said Martin Mapes, Machen's best friend and Navy SEAL partner.
Machen was born and raised in Gilmer. When he died in Vietnam, his son, Samuel Machen, was still an infant. The day Machen died, he led his team through Viet Cong territory. Instead of putting his team members in danger, Billy chose to expose himself first to the enemies. It was a brave move, his fellow veterans say, was truly heroic.
"It doesn't surprise me that Billy was one of the first ones to be killed because he was the first one to put himself in that position, because that was his life that's what he liked," said Mapes.
For 42 years, an unmarked veteran headstone covered Billy's final resting place at Willow Oak Cemetery, in Gilmer. That's until Frank Breazeale paid to have Machen's honors engraved on his tombstone. Billy's now, grown son Sam rewarded that gesture to Breazeale, by giving him his father's medals. "I had ordered replacement medals for my Dad just for this purpose to give back to Frank. He's always been close to the family and has done so much for us," Machen said.
Now, a lasting tribute stands for a remarkable East Texan who died so unselfishly.
"Billy did a fantastic job and he did it so we could have our on way of life. He gave his life for that and we're eternally grateful to him," said Veteran Larry Fink.