After two tours in Vietnam, Bell County resident and Army veteran Gene Hunter said he came to terms with what he experienced there, though some close to him have said the war changed him.
“I asked my brother one time not long ago, ‘Was I different when I came back from Vietnam?’ He said, ‘You were definitely different. You had a little bit of that thousand-yard stare, like your mind was some place else,’” Hunter said.
In the early years after his return, Hunter said he’d watch movies about the war, something that became almost therapeutic for him.
“The first few years I’d sit here in my chair watching a Vietnam movie and cry a little bit watching it. But that, I think, kind of helped me get over it and get it out of my system, I guess,” he said.
During the first tour from 1966 to 1967, Hunter was assigned to the Military Advisory Committee Vietnam, and worked alongside the South Vietnamese army.
Two days a week, Hunter spent his time on combat patrols, waist-deep in the country’s canals.
“There were some times we’d go through the water, and it would be over our heads, and you just keep going, and work with each other until you come out the other side. It was difficult,” he said.
The patrols were also monotonous, making it easy for the soldiers to let their minds wander, Hunter recalls.
“I had to tell myself all the time, ‘Don’t think about your family. Keep your mind where you are because at any time you could step on a booby trap.’ You had to always be careful about the booby traps,” he said.
But when he wasn’t patrolling, Hunter participated in what were called nation-building tasks, such as constructing schools and roads and transporting supplies to remote areas, jobs he found purposeful.
Early in the war, Hunter said the Army was sending what he believes were well-trained units into battle, however, by the time he returned in 1970 as a battalion executive officer with the 25th Infantry Division, things changed.
“We had a lot of drug use, lot of discipline problems in the last half of that war, and of course at the same time, we were getting all these demonstrations going on,” he said.
“I got a lot of satisfaction with my first tour, but a lot of disappointment with my second,” he added.
While his two years came with some close calls, Hunter said he left Vietnam both times without so much as a sprained ankle, and counts himself lucky.
After 17 years in the Army, and five in the National Guard, Hunter retired as a major.
Him and his wife settled down in the Fort Hood area, where they both spent a number of years in the real estate business, but Hunter said they enjoyed their time as a military family.
“It was great being in the Army in what I call the old days,” he said.