Central Texas Heroes: Bill Hearn Part 2

WACO, Texas (KWTX) There was a defining moment in Bill Hearn's life that needed its own story.

It's a moment that earned the Vietnam veteran a Silver Star and many lives were saved.

Hearn explained what happened in the Battle of Hill 172.

"The battle started at midnight, I was evacuating three wounded men and mortar rounds were falling," he told us.

It was the first moments of December 8, 1967 at an area known as Hill 172, two miles from the Cambodian border.

Bill Hearn's battalion came under attack by the Viet Cong.

Hearn had two injured men loaded on a helicopter when he got the radio call that mortar rounds were getting closer and the helicopter needed to take off.

But he was waiting for the third man to be brought in.

The clock was ticking.

He said, "I managed to get the third man loaded on the helicopter and get the helicopter off and the mortar round came in. It's hard to believe but it came right where the chopper was! I was so close!"

The helicopter and all on board were safe but he had to react quickly to protect the lives of the men on the ground.

"Had two radio operators, turned around threw them on he ground and rolled into the crater created by the mortar round, and it's hard to believe but the shrapnel went up and over us."

The next day a CBS correspondent came to the battle site reporting on the attack.

He was asking about reports of inflated enemy casualty numbers on the part of the U.S. military, but Army personnel he talked to said there was no way that was true.

And Hearn saw it with his own eyes, about 150 enemy soldiers killed but 100 bodies were carried away by the Viet Cong.

A few years ago someone gave Hearn a copy of the CBS crew's film and memories came flooding back.

Through his quick thinking he kept many others from dying on the battlefield and he was awarded the Silver Star.

But he earned a Bronze Star too for outstanding service in the nerve center of battle during the second half of his tour.

"There was a huge underground bunker complex, what they called the Division Tactical Operation Center, the DTOC," Hearn told us.

And his job was to keep track of all battle activity.

"You might have five different battles at one time, you might have about 15 to 20 air assaults in one day and an equal number of extractions. All that information believe it or not came into one desk," Hearn explained.

And he reported it all to a general, a stressful job made more difficult being away from his family.

He said, "I got to talk to my wife one time, the day the baby was born, I managed to get a patch through on ham radio and talk to her. "

And he was so thrilled when he finally came home to see his wife, his oldest daughter, and his newborn.

After leaving Vietnam he was assigned to work as an ROTC instructor in Alaska and looking back, he remains humble about his service.

"There are a lot of people that did a whole lot more than I did," he said.

But he hopes leaders consider Vietnam when dealing with global conflicts today and do everything they can to avoid war.

"I served with wonderful young men, many of whom were high school dropouts from the poorest parts of our country and those men made incredible sacrifices," Hearn told us, "we need to exhaust every possibility before any politician sends some young men to war."