For his support of U.S. Army ROTC, Larry Hunter (left) receives a plaque and certificate from Col. William Pruett at the University of North Alabama Military History Symposium in 2018.

Vietnam veteran shares faithfulness through stories of surviving war, battling cancer

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Captain Larry Hunter says it’s clear God had a purpose for him staying alive. He can’t see any other way he would’ve made it back from the Vietnam War still breathing.

For starters, he was an Army artillery forward observer, the person responsible for directing artillery fire on a target — an extremely dangerous assignment.

“The lifespan of a forward observer wasn’t very long but I beat those odds, and it wasn’t just by luck, I feel,” said Hunter, a member of First Baptist Church, Winfield.

During his time in Vietnam, he dodged death over and over. He remembers one specific time when his company went to the site of a helicopter crash and faced an unexpected ambush.

Holding onto hope

“We were dropped off in a little postage stamp-sized landing zone, and we could see the smoke from the burning wreckage,” Hunter said. “What we found was that the enemy was waiting on us to come in and get those bodies out.”

Shots came quickly, and his commander and radio operator were wounded badly. Hunter and his radio operator jumped behind a big ant mound. For hours, the firefight raged, and planes flew overhead dropping bombs. As daylight faded, Hunter wondered if he would ever make it out alive. At least half the men were wounded or killed at this point.

But he had a little hope when he heard a Chinook helicopter was coming in to rescue them from the fray.

“We gathered up army flashlights and arranged them pointed upward in the shape of a T so they could see the landing zone,” Hunter said.

‘God’s presence’

Their “relief quickly turned to horror” as the Chinook came under intense fire from every side, Hunter wrote in his book, “Fire Mission! Fire Mission!”

“Its fuselage was hit, and its engines were shot to pieces as it attempted to land on the small landing zone,” he wrote. “It crashed just short of the lighted ‘T’ in our small 50-yard perimeter. Now there was no room for another one to land.”

They were forced to spend the night there.

“Even as we dug in, forming a small perimeter, I thought we could not survive the night,” Hunter wrote. “I felt that it was almost over. I would die that night. I thought of home, my wife, Judy, baby Ken, only five weeks old when I left.”

He felt a “strange calmness” come over him, a “peace that passeth understanding.”

“I had accepted death … I believe it was God’s presence that gave me such peace,” he wrote.

But he wouldn’t die. A plane was able to drop them some ammo and that held off the enemy. Early the next morning, when they tried to expand their perimeter, they realized the enemy — a unit of around 1,100 north Vietnamese fighters — was gone.

“In looking back, God directed our whole life, mine and my wife, Judy,” said Hunter, who told this story and many more in his book, released in late 2019. “After Vietnam, I came to the realization that I had more purpose in life because I was spared so many times in Vietnam. I know I’m not alive by accident.”

He has also kept on living even though he’s battled multiple myeloma and renal failure as a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

“I’ve been in and out of remission,” he said. “I know thousands of people are praying for me. We can feel God’s presence. It’s His grace, that’s all we can say.”

‘Testimony of faith’

Mark Randall, a fellow church member who helped him compile the book, said when he first heard Hunter’s testimony, he was moved by the way Hunter and his wife “gave God all the glory for guiding him through Vietnam.”

Hunter invited him over, started telling him stories, and Randall started typing them out.

“I thought these stories need to be preserved,” he said, so he put them together, along with excerpts of the hundreds of letters Hunter and his wife wrote back and forth while he was in Vietnam.

Randall said Hunter’s faith has stayed strong, even while facing the ongoing effects of Agent Orange.

“It is a testimony to their faith that Larry and Judy continue to share the joy of the Lord with others as they walk this difficult pathway fighting this cancer on a daily basis,” he said.

Paul Murphy, Hunter’s pastor at First, Winfield, called him a “gentle rock.”

“To begin with, one of the great secrets to Larry is the strong faith of his wife, Judy,” Murphy said. “She was there as the praying wife and mother all the time while Larry served in Vietnam. Larry’s faith is quiet, deep and strong.”