Approached in his Bridgewill, Del., high school, he didn’t want to join the military at first.
“I was brought up in church, taking to heart the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” recalled William Walls. But his recruiter countered with an offer he wouldn’t refuse. “He told me I could enlist to be a medic, to help and care for the sick and wounded soldiers. I said right there, ‘Sign me up!’”
He graduated June 2, 1968, and left for basic training June 3. While at Fort Bragg, N.C., his mother received a draft notice. “So I was going anyway, but I’m glad I went as a medic.”
Right out of the Army’s Advance Individual Training, Walls was assigned to the famous 101st Airborne Division and found himself headed to Vietnam. On Hamburger Hill, he earned the Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal, but he brought much more than decorations home with him.
Attached to an artillery battery in Vietnam, Walls was on the front lines with the big guns during intense fighting. “We had an alert that said the radar picked up the equivalent of three regiments in the area of the enemy,” he recounted. “They called everybody back on the fire base, and they took the guns in tubes all the way down, firing high-explosive rounds with a two-second fuse. They’d count, ‘One thousand, two thousand,’ and then boom! They rotated guns all through the night. That’s just part of being over there.
“The first time I heard it—boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!—I asked, ‘What’s that?’ Someone said, ‘They’re bombing Hamburger Hill over there.’ And you look way up, and it’s the B-52s.”
Upon returning to the states, Walls was sent to New York City to drive military ambulances. “I went from one extreme to the other,” he said. “We were in Vietnam, without real roads, to all of a sudden driving on the busiest roads in the country.”
Walls left the Army and found a job at a chicken plant, but he couldn’t envision a desirable future there. So he rejoined the Army and was sent to Fort Campbell, Ky., did a stint in Korea, and was later assigned to the Old Guard (3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment) in Washington, D.C. But the mental anguish he carried with him began
unraveling while based in Germany.
While in Vietnam, Walls witnessed and cared for horrifically wounded soldiers, several of whom were his friends.
Walls grew increasingly dependent on alcohol to drown his pain. The Army gave him the boot. His wife left him. He returned to the States crushed and spiraling. Desperate for assistance, he decided to stop by the local Department of Veterans Affairs regional office.
He met a gentleman with DAV, and Walls explained his situation.
“Are you having nightmares?”
“I never called them nightmares,” Walls said. “I had dreams about Vietnam all the time—every night. I told him about six guys who were over there that I went through the Last Rites with. I picked up bodies. We were picking up the pieces of flesh and bone and everything. That doesn’t leave you.
I could see the stretchers. I could recognize [first sergeant] by the shiny combat boots; all the rest of him was gone. Six of them I took down there, and they said, ‘Walls, come back; we found another one.’
“I was chaptered out of the Army because I drank. I drank to self-medicate. I didn’t know what else to do.”
DAV started a claim for Walls, and he began receiving care.
“I was awarded service connection for PTSD and assigned an evaluation, which was reflective of the severity of my PTSD,” Walls said.
Before he received his service-connected rating, he resided in a single room in New York City for $250 a month, living off a 10-percent rating he received earlier for a foot problem. Shortly after getting a call from DAV with the news of his new rating, he went to his bank to check the balance to ensure there was enough to pay his rent.
“Can you tell me what my balance is?” Walls asked. “And the teller said, ‘A substantial amount.’ Whoa, wait a minute, there must be some kind of mistake. It was two years’ back pay.
“DAV changed my life,” Walls said. “They hand-carried my paperwork through the whole process. They cared when just about no one else did. I donate my time to them now. It is the least I can do.”
Walls now volunteers with DAV at the Cincinnati VA medical center. He hasn’t had a drink in 11 years running.
“Mr. Walls is a great example of veterans giving back, serving others,” said Washington Executive Director Garry J. Augustine. “Some of the veterans and families he’s helping now will eventually become volunteers themselves. It is a cycle that needs to continue to ensure veterans take care of each other for generations.”