BEEVILLE – No, the younger generation is not as interested in themselves as some might think.
At least not in Beeville.
Just ask Erlinda S. Ortiz. She had a small notice published on Page 7 on the Nov. 14 edition of the Bee-Picayune asking for volunteers to help Ted Hernandez, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who needed a tree cut and hauled away from his property.
Last week the veteran stood in his backyard and watched as four young men worked with chain saws to cut up a tree he needed removed and hauled it away, saving him a lot of work and money.
Hernandez is a lively man with a quick smile and a twinkle in his eye. But he admitted that at his age, with metal rods in one hip, getting on top of a shed and cutting down a large tree in his backyard was just too much of a job for him.
He had asked around to see how much it would cost him to have someone come to his house on West Crockett Street and do the work. But the price was beyond his means.
That was when Ortiz stepped in and ran the notice in the newspaper.
Less then a week later the four volunteers showed up with chain saws and a flatbed trailer to take care of the job for the disabled veteran.
When asked about his military service, Hernandez said he often has a hard time talking about it.
“I have flashbacks,” he said. “I don’t go to funerals.”
Hernandez said he was assigned to the First Infantry Division in Vietnam with the U.S. Army during the end of the 1960s.
In May 1969, parts of his division, “The Big Red One,” were assigned to join troops with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the 101st Airborne Division for Operation Apache Snow.
It was during that operation that his unit took part in a frontal assault of a heavily fortified area known as Hill 937. The site, located only 1.2 miles from the Laotian border, was to earn the name “Hamburger Hill.”
The hill was a solitary, triple-canopy, jungle-covered uplift from the floor of the A Sau Valley that reached a height of 3,074 feet above sea level.
North Vietnamese troops defending what the local Degar tribe called Ap Bia Mountain.
The name meant “the mountain of the crouching beast,” and it lived up to that description during the ensuing battle to control it.
The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) soldiers were dug in and ready as the U.S., with a reported 1,800 infantrymen, launched repeated attacks up the steeply-sloped hill.
Then the weather turned bad, and repeated rains made the assault up the steep sides of the hill even more difficult.
The battle lasted 10 bloody days, May 10-20, and casualties were extensive on both sides.
According to the history books, 31 South Vietnamese troops and 72 Americans were killed during the battle.
Hernandez was one of more than 400 U.S. Army infantrymen wounded by the end of the fight.
The combined American and South Vietnamese assaults were successful when U.S. infantry troops finally reached the summit of the hill.
The U.S. forces claimed to have killed or wounded 1,500 troops of the People’s Army of Vietnam. A body count after the battle turned up 630 dead North Vietnamese troops.
However, the real tragedy realized in the aftermath of the costly battle was that military leaders admitted that the taking of Hill 937 had no military significance other than it was where the North Vietnamese had a substantial number of troops.
According to one historical account, Maj. Gen. John M. Wright, who replaced 101st Airborne Division commander Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais as the head of the operation, withdrew U.S. troops from the hill on June 5.
Zais was later quoted as saying, “This is not a war of hills. That hill had no military value whatsoever.”
Today, Hernandez disagrees. He was one of those men who took part in the assault up that steep slope under a hail of gunfire from the North Vietnamese troops. He saw his friends wounded and killed.
Hernandez said he was flown out of the battle to Saigon first, after he was wounded, and then sent to Hong Kong before being transferred back to the U.S.
The veteran said one of his biggest surprises came when he was discharged not too long after that. He had left high school in the 11th grade with a good academic record when he received his draft notice.
However, Hernandez had considered himself a high school dropout until he received his separation papers and found that the army had included a diploma from A.C. Jones High School among his discharge papers.
Even though the war was over for the veteran, his personal battles were not.
“I didn’t come back the same person,” Hernandez said. Post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his experiences on Hamburger Hill kept him from enjoying the company of others.
“I separated from my family,” he said. “I was homeless for a while.”
Hernandez said he was sleeping under bridges when he met another homeless veteran who steered him in the right direction to get the help he needed.
The effort started with the Social Security office. But it still took him about eight years to start collecting his benefits from the Veterans Administration.
“I started saving money,” Hernandez said, “and got myself a house.”
Although he has been able to take care of the place, he knew the old tree in the backyard was going to need attention.
“That tree was a problem,” Hernandez said last week. But so was the idea of getting on top of a shed with a chain saw to cut it up and then haul it off.
That was when Ortiz stepped in with the little notice in the paper.
“I appreciate these guys,” Hernandez said as he watched the four young men, Daniel Rodriguez, Daniel Campos Jr., Mike Chambliss and Tyrell Sayles, taking down the tree.
“They did it for free,” he said. “They didn’t ask for a thing.”
The reward the four volunteers received for their effort meant more than money.
The smile on the veteran’s face as they worked was sure to give them that warm, fuzzy feeling that one gets when helping someone in need.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5220, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.