StoryCorps
1:20 am
Fri November 9, 2012

Vet Recalls The 'Legacy Of War That Lasts Forever'

Originally published on Fri November 9, 2012 10:46 am

Harvey Hilbert enlisted in the Army in 1964. He was in the infantry, and in January 1966, he was sent to Vietnam to fight. Five months later, his unit was sent into the jungle. That was the last time he fought in Vietnam.

"It was coming on dusk, and we went into what's called a hot landing zone — means we were under fire," Hilbert told StoryCorps. "We jumped off the helicopters and took a position. And then the enemy stopped shooting."

The company commander sent three soldiers into the jungle to set up a listening post to look for enemy forces and report back. Usually, the three newest men in the unit were sent out for this kind of duty, Hilbert says. He had met one of the men who was sent out that night.

"He went about 100 meters or so out in front of the line," Hilbert says. "But the enemy hadn't gone anywhere. They were embedded in the jungle. And around midnight, they opened fire."

The three men had set up their listening post in the middle of a battalion of enemy soldiers. They grabbed their rifles and started running back to the helicopters.

"All I saw were soldiers with rifles, and machine-gun fire coming at me," Hilbert says. "And so I shot at 'em. And one of them fell about 10 or 15 feet from me and was screaming in pain, and it turned out it was this young man that I had met."

A few minutes later, Hilbert got shot in the head.

"I could hardly move, and I thought that if I fell asleep I would die. So I was trying to stay awake, listening to this young man scream.

"He died just before I was airlifted out. You know, I'm 65 years old, and I can remember clearly that young man — the color of his skin, his face, his cries.

"You know, there's a legacy of war that lasts forever," Hilbert says.

Hilbert was hospitalized at a field hospital in Vietnam, where he had to have bullet fragments removed from his brain. Hilbert was partially paralyzed on his left side, though he recovered the use of most of his leg and some of his arm.

He was decorated with a National Defense Service Medal and a Purple Heart, among other medals, for his service.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's Friday and time again for StoryCorp, where everyday Americans talk about the moments that shaped their lives. Today, a Vietnam veteran. Harvey Hilbert enlisted in the infantry in 1964. At StoryCorp, he remembered one particular battle during the war.

HARVEY HILBERT: It was coming on dusk, and we went into what's called a hot landing zone, means we were under fire. We jumped off the helicopters and took a position. And then the enemy stopped shooting. So my company commander sends out a three person listening post to go out into the jungle, and find enemy and report back.

Usually, when that happens, he'd pick the three newest guys, and one of them was a young man that I had met. And he went about 100 meters, or so, out in front of the line. But the enemy hadn't gone anywhere. They were embedded in the jungle. And around midnight, they opened fire. And the three-person listening post was sitting right in the middle of this battalion of enemy soldiers. They grabbed their rifles and started running toward me.

Of course, it's like 1 o'clock in the morning and I couldn't see who was running. All I saw were soldiers with rifles, and machine-gun fire coming at me. And so I shot at 'em. And one of them fell about 10 or 15 feet from me and was screaming in pain, and it turned out it was this young man that I had met. And a few minutes later, I got shot in the head.

I could hardly move, and I thought that if I fell asleep, I would die. So I was trying to stay awake, listening to this young man scream. He died just before I was airlifted out. You know, I'm 65 years old, and I can remember, clearly, that young man, the color of his skin, his face, his cries. You know, there's a legacy of war that lasts forever.

MONTAGNE: Harvey Hilbert at StoryCorp in Nacia(ph), New Mexico. His story will be archived at the Library of Congress. StoryCorp has begun a new project called the Military Voices Initiative, stories from veterans who've served since September 11. You can hear those starting tomorrow on Weekend Edition. Get the StoryCorp Podcast at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.