Hunter helped train South Vietnamese ArmyPublished 11:30am Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Viet Cong were quietly waiting as Willie Hunter and the South Vietnamese troops he had been training slogged though the Nuc Lo Valley on a mission 50 years ago today.
For his actions that day, Hunter received a Bronze Star with a V-device “for heroic achievement.” He insists he isn’t a hero, and on the 50th anniversary the action for which he was awarded one of the Army’s honors for bravery, he would prefer the focus be on other Vietnam veterans.
He thinks about some of the other black soldiers from Vicksburg who served, namely James Norfort, D.C. Wiley, Clarence Bell and Daniel Jennings.
“They did more than I did. They did better than I did, so why me then?” Hunter wondered aloud about why he is still alive after all these years and his fellow soldiers are not.
All of them, including Hunter, served in Vietnam before they were guaranteed the right to vote in their home country under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Hunter said.
On that fateful day in ’64, Hunter, now 73, was deployed as part of Detachment A-725 to South Vietnam as a civilian advisor meant to train South Vietnamese troops in fighting the communist guerillas.
“When training was completed, we had to take them into live combat and test their ability to fight,” Hunter said.
It was months before the United States officially entered the war when Hunter and his trainees were ambushed during a search and destroy mission, and the Vicksburg native risked life and limb to repel the Viet Cong and destroy a targeted village.
When they reached the village, they made a plan to surround it and eliminate two observation posts before searching the village and destroying it, according to Hunters Bronze Star citation issued under the order of Gen. William C. Westmoreland.
Soon, they were ambushed by Viet Cong.
“Lt. Hunter continually exposed himself to intense hostile fire in order to direct effective fire support. He then lifted his fire, led his men into the village and destroyed it, and went to the assistance of the besieged main patrol element, which was pinned down on a small hilltop by murderous enemy fire,” a portion of the citation says.
Deciding to fight their way down the valley toward the patrol base, Hunter organized parties to pick up the dead and wounded before leading them into combat.
Again, they came under heavy enemy fire.
“Lt. Hunter, without regard for his own personal safety, ran into an open area and began firing a 60mm handheld mortar in the direction of the machine gun position. His extremely effective fire silenced the machine gun, enabling the patrol to fire and maneuver, which caused the enemy to withdraw. Contact was broken in the dense jungle, and the patrol returned safely to its base,” a portion of the citation says.
As a civilian advisor, Hunter wasn’t even supposed to fire a weapon. He had been assigned a bodyguard to do his fighting for him.
“I didn’t do it because I was brave. I did it because my bodyguard just laid down and didn’t do anything,” Hunter said.
Hunter served three more tours in Vietnam. He retired from the Army as a Captain.