Vietnam veteran reveals his past after 35 years

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Anthony J. Hyatt
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Almost 35 years after the Vietnam War some veterans still struggle to talk about their experiences in that far-off conflict.

For one 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, it wasn't until two years ago that he began to tell the story of his role in the war; Julian "Biff" Hunt, a Panama City, Fla., local, finally took advice from an old friend to seek help.

His story began like so many of his fellow Airmen. He was a fresh airman second class who was drafted into service and worked munitions for the 4765th Armament and Electronic Maintenance Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in 1965. That same year, Mr. Hunt received orders to Bien Hoa Air Base, a military airfield in South-Central southern Vietnam approximately 20 miles from Saigon, in support of operation TOP DOG XVII.

"At the time, I didn't know I was going to Vietnam," Mr. Hunt said. "It was so top secret; my orders just said 'San Francisco.'"

It wasn't until he arrived in Vietnam in 1965 that he started feeling scared. Mr. Hunt remembers arriving weighing roughly 206 pounds and leaving weighing nearly as low as 140. He used the fear to his advantage, though.

"I was so scared I couldn't eat. I was a 21-year-old at the time -- the majority of us were under 30," he said. "We all were scared, if anyone ever tells you they weren't scared they are either a fool or a liar. We were facing death every day, but the fear is what helped us stay alive."

Mr. Hunt remembered one event that stands out the most in his mind; the explosion which rocked Bien Hoa AB May 16, 1965, killing 27 men and wounding approximately 100.

According to a fire accident investigation board, it was concluded that an accidental bomb explosion on a B-57 parked in the airfield triggered a series of blasts. The aircraft and the ammunition were stored too close together, allowing the fires and explosions to propagate.

Although Mr. Hunt was able to move a couple of wounded Airmen to the closest medics for treatment, he feels personally responsible for the loss of one of his sergeants.

"After the first explosions, I collected two wounded men and got them in my truck, when one of my sergeants approached me and told me 'Airman, we have to get back to our post,'" said Mr. Hunt.

Mr. Hunt told the sergeant, "Sir, there is no post, it's gone."

Disregarding Mr. Hunt's comments, the sergeant returned to the airfield, while Mr. Hunt transported the wounded men to safety. When Mr. Hunt returned, he found the sergeant dead from further blasts.

This event troubles him to this day.

"There's not a day I forget about that I could have saved him," he said. "Every year when this date comes around, I usually become emotional and distant from my family."

Mr. Hunt returned to the United States in November 1966, but ahead of him was only more trouble. People who were against the war let the veterans know how they felt when the Airmen arrived back in the U.S.

"The reception I got when I came home was not friendly," he recalls. "The anti-war populace hated us and said the most hateful things in our direction. I was just following orders."

The effects of the war showed later in Mr. Hunt's life. He currently suffers from a problem common to many veterans: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many nights feature nightmares of the war, often ending with yelling.

He regularly goes to the woods and hunts by himself to find peace.

"I didn't have an alcohol problem like some veterans had, but I just needed to be by myself at times; this is just how I coped," he said.

Mr. Hunt listened to an old friend who said to talk to someone about his issues about a year and a half ago. Currently, he attends a counseling group twice a month with 11 other Vietnam veterans.

"Being able to talk to people who went through the same thing I did helps me tremendously," he said. "We understand each other better."

Years after the war ended and life was back to normal for Mr. Hunt, he found out there was a little issue; the military showed no records of him serving in Vietnam, thus depriving him of benefits as a veteran. For a majority of his life, he didn't receive any help from the military.

"I don't know how something like this could happen, maybe information just got disorganized, or maybe because it was top-secret," he said.

One afternoon while strolling around a local store, he ran into Duane "Pete" Peters, the 325th Fighter Wing Retiree Activities Office director, who put him in touch with the right person to help him out -- enter Ted Roberts, 325th FW base historian.

"Mr. Roberts and Mr. Peters really went above and beyond for me," said Mr. Hunt.

"Mr. Hunt had several pieces of the puzzle, but he couldn't absolutely link them to Vietnam," said the historian. "With the several clues Mr. Hunt provided me, I conducted some historical research and helped him prove it by association."

After years of long-delayed disability benefits, Mr. Hunt, with his newly-found proof, submitted his package to Veterans Affairs and was finally approved.

"The Air Force owes tremendous gratitude to men like Biff Hunt, who sacrifice much in defense of the United States," Mr. Roberts said. "As the wing commander's representative for historical events, I know the general puts the greatest priority on taking care of people, whether they are active duty, civilians or retirees."

Today, Mr. Hunt works at the Naju Boarding and Grooming Dog Park in Panama City, which he owns with his wife of 42 years, Polly.

The Hunt family has been very supportive of the U.S. military, even donating a vehicle to the Purple Heart Car Donation program.

"One of the main reasons why our dog park is open in Panama City is to stay close to the military [at Tyndall]," he said. "We wanted to give them a safe place to leave their dogs behind while deployed."

His military experience taught him the importance of relieving combat stress.

"People will say they don't have problems, but they do and they need to talk to someone about them," he said. "You don't have to be a Vietnam veteran, even our Airmen returning from deployments now should talk about their experience."

Mr. Hunt hopes his story will inspire other veterans to talk about their issues and experiences. Veterans with questions can visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Web site at