When the Cuban Missile Crisis began, Ned Hill was called up by the Army, received his physical and was due to be inducted at that time. When the crisis subsided, he received a college deferment.
After college, he accepted a position working for the Army in New Jersey. His assignment was to help in the development of lasers and night-vision devices. Then his draft notice arrived.
“I knew it would happen, ultimately,” he said, “and I always believed in supporting my country.”
Hill attended Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and Engineering Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Following OCS, he received a command of a company providing two to three weeks refresher training for soldiers going directly to Vietnam at Fort Lee, Virginia.
A real war
In November, Hill was on his way to Vietnam.
“We travelled on a United jet with all of the usual accommodations. We were fed very well and enjoyed constant movies and entertainment. The minute we flew over Cambodia and Thailand into Vietnam, we were taking antiaircraft fire. At this time I knew I was in a real war.”
After arriving in Vietnam at the Long Bien Air Base near Saigon, the Army issued jungle fatigues, weapons and other supplies to the new arrivals. Hill was sent to DaNang on a C-130 to receive his assignment. His commanding officer declared that there was a position open for him, as a person having a logistical background.
Hill expected to be placed in an engineering assignment, but instead was put in charge of Class 1 supply – mainly food and rations. Blood puddles and a trail of blood to the field phone greeted him in the hooch where he was sent to live. Others explained that the former officer had been stabbed and killed.
Hill’s job was to request the Class 1 requirements, which were then shipped into the DaNang deep-water pier. The food was divided up and placed into freezers and warehouses. From there, tons of food were broken down and sent to fire bases all over I Corps. Hill not only ordered and supplied food for American troops, but also for South Korean Marines and South Vietnamese forces as well.
Hill’s company, along with others, provided guard duty. They lived right next to the DaNang helicopter and Air Force base providing security for them.
“I think we probably had firefights once every two or three weeks where the Viet Cong came with explosives, trying to get through the wires to the planes and helicopters,” he recalled.
During this time, sleep was hard to come by. The Viet Cong, although they did not really want to engage in a full-blown firefight, would put mortars on the nearby Monkey and Marble Mountains. They formulated a method in which they would stretch a rubber band soaked in gasoline across the top of the shell.
After about eight hours, the band deteriorated and the mortar would fire, sending men to the reinforced bunkers. They never knew when they would get lucky and hit something.
“These mortars were not too accurate very often, but ended up hitting one air base barracks – killing many of our men one night. One huge tank containing jet fuel was hit – burning for days,” Hill said.
Hill’s job brought him in close contact with local Vietnamese. Nearly 50 men and women worked on the base. Women worked as secretaries in the offices and warehouses. Hill commanded a company of GIs as they worked to fill the food orders. He automated a 28-day master menu, taking into account the number of men at each base. This process saved thousands of hours.
To be left alone
Hill recalled an interesting story from early during his tour. After a few weeks on base, he walked to the warehouse and saw a pallet covered in cardboard. Someone had written in French, “God is Dead” and signed it “Sartre” (a quote from the French existentialist writer, Jean Paul Sarte).
“I thought, ‘Wow, who here not only speaks French but has also read the existential theorist?’ That was the last thing I expected,” he said.
So, he wrote back on the same box, “Sartre is Dead” and signed it “God.” Hill soon found the gentleman – a Vietnamese worker who had been a Colonel in the French Army.
Hill said the man was very interesting to talk to.
“The political views he shared gave me a lot of insight about how the Vietnamese felt about the war,” he remembered.
“He asked me one day if he could have some of the cardboard packaging, and I said, ‘sure,’” Hill said. “About two weeks later, he invited me to a house warming. He had built a house with it. He got a few pieces of wood, put the cardboard up, and stretched a poncho over the top. This structure served as the home for him and his wife.
“I always found the Vietnamese people to be very loyal. I perceived that these people just wanted to be left alone – to farm their rice paddies and live their lives. I really felt bad for them because I know that many of them lost their lives when the communists swept down from the North and took over the South.”
Life at home
Hill returned from Vietnam in 1971. He carried more than memories with him. Due to the effects of Agent Orange, he developed a tumor and was admitted to the Salt Lake City Veterans Hospital for treatment. Most of the following year was spent the hospital. After a successful surgery and chemotherapy treatments, he was offered a job transfer from the Army to the Veterans Administration System as a hospital administrator. For more than 30 years, he and his wife, Jolene, moved around the country serving hospitals in locations such as Denver; Los Angeles; Buffalo, New York; Danville, Illinois; Chicago; and Somerville, Massachusetts.
In 2000 Hill retired, and the couple and family moved to Evanston, Wyoming. With a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in business administration, he now uses his education to teach several business and government classes at Western Wyoming Community College-Evanston Branch Campus. He also provides student advising.
“I think the biggest annoyance I had was coming back to the presidio. When I and my fellow soldiers reached American soil, several bowed and kissed the ground amid people protesting the war. For quite some time, we were branded ‘drugged-up baby killers’. It annoys me to no end hearing people talking about this being the first war the United States has lost. We never lost a major battle of any kind anywhere. There was no way the North Vietnamese regulars would in any manner take us head on.
“Being in a combat zone gave me an opportunity to see the military work as it is supposed to work. It is really a special experience to see the brotherhood and the entire military working together. There was no baloney – everyone was really serious about fighting the war and protecting each other. All in all, if I had it to do over, I would do it again.”