CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Walter J. Hill
Vietnam / Iraq / Afghanistan Oral History Interview
US Marine Corps / US Army
Date: August 20, 2018
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Jack McDonald
Walter J. Hill is a United States military veteran who served in the Vietnam War, the Cold War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Born in 1953, he grew up in the state of New Jersey into a family of eight. Hill recalled protests against the Vietnam War had reached his high school that never really fazed him. After graduating from high school, he considered attending college or trade school; but, he did not pursue either endeavor.
Hill was looking for work and remembered that a friend suggested that he join the armed forces. In November 1971, he went to the recruiting office and joined the Marines, because it was the first branch of service desk he encountered. Hill was told that he would not be sent to Vietnam yet ended up there anyway.
Hill attended boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. During training, he lived in World War II-era barracks, with a series of upper and lower bunks as home to two trainees. Hill described boot camp as being a long, strenuous, thirteen-week process. He recalled being singled out by his drill sergeants because he “had some civilian left in him.” After graduating, Hill was promoted to private first class and went home on a ten-day leave. He recalled that he had a hard time readjusting to civilian life. Hill found it hard to sit down and read a book, because trainees were forced to stand up for three hours straight.
After his leave, Hill went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and then to Camp Pendleton, California. He recalled that funding for the California base was insufficient, so vehicles were rarely refueled; and, there was very little field activity. While at Pendleton, the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam requested reinforcements; Hill volunteered to go. He flew into Cam Ranh Bay by helicopter from a naval ship. Five minutes after Hill landed, there was a rocket attack.
During his time in Vietnam, Hill served with the 3rd Amtrac Battalion and with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. The first task his unit was assigned to was reestablishing an old fire base, known as Fire Base Eagle. One week later he began to participate in a series of patrols which lasted from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Hill was then transferred to Plei Mei, which he considered a more dangerous place than Fire Base Eagle. Plei Mei was subjected to occasional sniper fire and rocket attacks; yet, he recalled having access to cigarettes, beer and adequate rations. For the most part, his days in Vietnam were boring. Hill’s unit never participated in joint operations with the South Vietnamese military, but would use Vietnamese scouts for intelligence information.
After his time in Vietnam, Hill went to Okinawa and served on a security detail for four months, patrolling a twenty-acre ammunition depot on the island. There were nuclear weapons stored at the depot which made securing it a high priority. Hill and his fellow Marines worked six days a week and had one day off. If you were not on patrol duty, you were cleaning the barracks or taking care of personal business. He recalled that after he left Okinawa, a terrorist group known as the “Red Brigade” attempted to steal weapons from the depot, but were stopped by the Marine guards.
Following his service in Okinawa, Hill was discharged and returned home to New Jersey. In 1976, he saw a newspaper article on the New Jersey National Guard, so he joined the 102nd Cavalry, stationed in West Orange, where he was assigned as a technician. Hill drilled one weekend a month and served two weeks of active duty for training in the summer. He was eventually hired as a full-time civilian technician at the West Orange Armory. Hill also served as full-time training NCO in East Orange for eighteen months, but then returned to West Orange. He remained in West Orange until he retired as a Master Sergeant and acting First Sergeant in 1996.
In 2008, Hill heard that the 102nd Cavalry was being deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and wanted to go with them. His reason for reenlisting as a retiree was that he just wanted to “do it” one more time. Hill attended refresher training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and eventually left for Iraq from Atlanta. He was stationed at Camp Bucca, fifteen miles North of the Kuwait border with a construction unit. Hill recalled that his platoon built “anything and everything,” depending on orders. He said he was part of a good team in Iraq, and everyone did their jobs. When Hill returned home in 2009, he said that he felt a great sense of dedication.
Hill was deployed again in 2010; his motivation for going was to “do it” yet one more time. He felt like he had “some more left in the tank” after serving in Iraq. This time Hill was not with a New Jersey unit, which he admitted felt a little different. He went to Afghanistan in August of 2010 and was stationed at Kandahar airbase, where he worked with people from different countries including France, Belgium, Lithuania, Britain and Canada. His partner was from Slovakia. Hill served as an intelligence assessment analyst, responsible for Kandahar City and five surrounding districts. He made periodic reports and evaluated the districts based on governance, economy, and people. Hill also evaluated plans for construction. He recalled that he spent most of his time in Kandahar compiling reports from patrols or going to intelligence meetings. Hill’s time in Afghanistan was his last stint as an active duty soldier.
After officially retiring again, Hill used his G.I. benefits to complete a BA degree in American Literature and History in 2017. He also used his V.A. benefits to refinance his house; and, at the time of his interview planned on using them to treat a shoulder ailment. Hill was recently upgraded to eighty percent disability for his benefits, and he received a widower benefit after his wife passed away. He also started attending PTSD counseling and was found to be high-functioning. Hill remains involved in the Essex Troop National Guard Association, and occasionally hears from people he served with over the years. He recalled having a lot of good memories about his time in service, and confidently stated that he had absolutely no regrets.