An Iowa native, Boyd entered the Air Force in 1959 through the aviation cadet program, where he learned to fly the North American F–100 Super Sabre and Republic F–105 Thunderchief.
He was deployed to Southeast Asia in 1965.
In 1966, during a mission to attack surface-to-air-missile sites around Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capital, Boyd’s F–105D was shot down after repeated passes through enemy fire. Boyd ejected and was captured shortly after. Boyd spent the next seven years as a POW in North Vietnam, which he described at “the defining experience” of his life. According to The Washington Post, Boyd spent 18 of those months occupying a cell next to John S. McCain, who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate. Boyd received the Air Force Cross—the highest decoration after the Medal of Honor.
Vision problems caused by prolonged malnutrition during captivity ended Boyd’s career as a military pilot, but in 1973 he resumed his Air Force career, and in the years that followed served as a vice commander of the 8th Air Force, commander of Air University, and deputy commander-in-chief of U.S. European Command until his retirement as a four-star general in August 1995, according to Air Force Magazine.
After his retirement Boyd also worked as senior vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, as its Washington program director. He also served as a director at various defense and intelligence-oriented companies, was CEO of the Business Executives for National Security, and was chair of the Center for the National Interest think tank.
Air Force Association President retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright said, “Gen. Boyd was an inspirational figure, in his warrior spirit, his incredible endurance under brutal conditions, and his intellectual gifts to the national security community. An exemplary leader for generations of Airmen, he inspired us in every encounter.”
According to pilot and friend Dan Blackwell, Boyd spent the last 12 years of his life flying his Beech T–34A with friends.
“Chuck learned to fly the T-34A when he was 22 in [Air Force] primary training. That was his first airplane and ultimately the last one he ever flew. … After retirement he wanted to fly and was not happy until he found that the T–34’s were available. He also found out about the T–34 Association and the Warbirds Of America and embraced both associations. He shared with all of us his experiences and wisdom over the last 12 years. He will be sorely missed. God Speed General Boyd.”