Payne made the most of his experience

By DEMETRIUS THOMPSON,

This past weekend, millions of Americans all over the country honored our military veterans. Newton County had several events including the big Veterans Day event in Decatur at the county courthouse on Saturday.

I got the chance last week to sit down with Vietnam veteran and Newton native Melvin Payne, who went on to a successful career in business as the founder and CEO o

f Carriage Services, one of the largest funeral home corporations in the U.S.

Payne enlisted into the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps in 1966 while at Mississippi State and did two years of active duty as a second lieutenant.

Payne spent his first year at Fort Bragg training soldiers, mostly draftees from all walks of life, many of them who didn’t want to be there. Payne said that he quickly 

learned that because he was inexperienced as a baby lieutenant, all he had to do was get out of the way of the professional drill sergeants and instructors and let them do their job of soldier making.

In his second year of duty, Payne was shipped off to Vietnam and joined a civil affairs team that was tasked with “winning the hearts and minds of the people.”

“That was a job that was very dangerous. You went into a different hamlet every day because if you went to the same one twice you were dead,” Payne said. “You had to come up with ideas and communicate those ideas through interpreters.”

Payne said that in the first two weeks, he went home every day fearing that the next day would be his last, but that he knew he had to fulfil his duty to his country.

“It seemed to me that if I’m afraid I’m going to die doing my job, I’m going to spend a whole year feeling miserable, and even if I’m afraid to die it won’t prevent me from dying,” he said. “So, I have to make a choice either be afraid to die or don’t, so consciously I chose not to be afraid to die. That changed the rest of my life, just that decision. So, when I survived all that and I was leaving Vietnam, I made a commitment and a promise to myself that I was going to go back and live my life to the fullest every day and learn as much as I could.”

Payne said learning to negotiate risk while in Vietnam is what helped him in his business career.

There are many other veterans who have used their experiences in the service to be successful later in life. I also got to hear several veterans talk about their experiences at the Union School Public District Veterans Day program on Friday. But I am glad I was able to sit down with Payne and hear his own personal story firsthand.