America’s war in Vietnam caused Larry Kenneth Hunter to fight the two most desperate battles of his life. The first occurred in 1966 at Chu Phong Mountain when more than 1,000 North Vietnamese Army troops ambushed his company. The second came in 2012 when the after-effects of exposure to Agent Orange paralyzed him multiple myeloma—commonly known as bone cancer—a disease with symptoms that often do not appear until the disease reaches a highly advanced stage.
With encouragement from his therapist, Dr. Mark Randall, Hunter tells the stories of these battles in Fire Mission! Fire Mission! A Forward Observer’s Experiences in Vietnam (Koehler Books, 172 pp. $2.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle). Almost all of the book’s Vietnam War recollections are based on letters Hunter exchanged with his wife Judy.
Larry Hunter served seven and a half months as a forward observer with the First Air Cavalry Division operating from An Khe. He flew in more than 25 engagements during search-and-destroy missions that usually lasted from two to four weeks. His company killed a great number of enemy soldiers—the majority attributed to artillery fire—but suffered many casualties. Hunter explains how the Cav initially learned by doing.
Sent to rescue crews of three downed helicopter at Chu Phong, Hunter and his men instantly were ambushed. During fighting that began in late afternoon and extended through the night, his unit lost half of its 130 men, primarily its officers. After the North Vietnamese shot down a Chinook sent to rescue the rescuers, Hunter assumed control of the operation. Although convinced that it was his last day on earth, he masterfully directed Army helicopter gunships and Air Force fighter-bombers and managed to resupply the men with ammunition—actions that helped his company survive until morning. He received a Bronze Star with V device for his courage and leadership.
When he went to Vietnam, Hunter left behind his wife and a newborn son. In exchanging letters, Judy Hunter provided strong support for the war and for her husband’s role in it. Avidly following First Cavalry news reports, she enthusiastically commented on the unit’s success. “Heard yesterday where 1st Cav destroyed an entire Battalion of NVA,” she wrote in one letter. “Good work.” Both repeatedly thanked God for sparing Larry Hunter from injury.
With his wife’s strong support, Hunter was nearly equally successful in his fight against cancer. After a successful thirty-year business management career, the couple had nearly finished building their dream retirement home when Hunter became partially paralyzed from cancer.
They counterattacked the disease with every available weapon: radiation, chemo, new drugs, physical therapy, a stem cell transplant, months of isolation, and faith in God. Although multiple myeloma is considered incurable, one doctor enthusiastically told Hunter: “Your blood results are fantastic. You are in complete remission.”
Twenty-one months later, in 2016, the cancer returned, and Hunter has been fighting a life-and-death battle ever since. He and Judy still pray and enjoy days of temporary victory.
Fire Mission! Fire Mission! held my attention for several reasons. Hunter, for one thing, provides map overlays of significant missions. And he teaches lessons about employing artillery: “We’ve put Batteries into some of the wildest country you’ve ever seen,” he writes. “You couldn’t have pulled in there in a truck in less than a month and in minutes we started shooting for the Infantry.” He pays tributes to officers and enlisted men killed in action.
Most important, however, Larry and Judy Hunter accepted whatever challenges confronted them. For me, reading about their indomitable spirits significantly narrowed the morbidity of the current perilous world situation. They set examples for how to survive when facing disaster.