Paul Oliver is like a lot of veterans. He downplays his own service even though he risked his life for his country.
“I’m not a hero. I’m not gung ho,” Oliver said. “I just did the job my country sent me there to do.”
Doing that job is exactly what heroes are made of.
As an 18-year-old working at Cessna, Oliver was drafted. A motorcycle accident delayed his deployment a few months, but it wasn’t long before he ended up in Vietnam.
From the hot and muggy days filled with unrelenting mosquitos to the freezing nights filled with frequent attacks from soldiers using guerilla techniques, Oliver did not become a fan of armed conflict.
“War is terrible,” Oliver said. “I don’t care what you see in a movie. It is awful.”
Oliver said if someone was in Vietnam and tells you they weren’t scared, they were either a cook at a base camp or they’re lying.
“I hated to see the sun go down,” he said. “Every night they would attack.”
Oliver said the listening patrols could be terrifying as two men would walk away a few hundred meters and just listen for the enemy to pass by so they could call in the potential attack that was on its way toward camp.
“You couldn’t attack them,” he said. “There were only two of us against all of them.”
He said the rats in the country were huge and mosquitos made life miserable for the soldiers. He said they even heard there were tigers in the country although they never saw any.
The attacks at night were so severe soldiers would sleep in short shifts of one or two hours at a time. It took months for Oliver to be able to sleep normally after getting back home.
Luckily for Oliver, some of the closest calls he faced ended up being false alarms. There are photos of him holding a long snake across his shoulders. An old villager brought in a wicker basket and all of the people ran away from it.
Of course, the Americans assumed he was bringing a bomb into the camp. But it turns out the long snake scared off the others in the village.
Another time, when they knew there were no peasants in the area, suddenly a bush began to move and every one assumed the worst. After firing many rounds into the bush, a water buffalo stumbled out into the open after receiving fatal wounds.
Page 2 of 2 - There were other close calls that saw tracer bullets whiz inches away from his face and hit a friend.
But after a long year of service, Oliver caught a break when his deployment was winding down. President Lyndon Johnson declared any soldier within 30 days of his return home could ship out now.
“You can’t imagine the relief you feel when that plane lifts off to take you home,” he said.
When Oliver returned home from his tough assignment, life got a lot better.
“Life has been wonderful,” he said.
Oliver has been married to Kathy for 42 years and they have three children and six grandchildren.
He worked at Cessna for 13 years and retired from Boeing after 26 years. While at Boeing, Oliver started working in a tutoring program that has led to a busy schedule as a substitute teacher. He also volunteers on the board of directors for White Eagle Credit Union, Cottonwood Point and the Augusta Senior Center.
He even volunteers at the Augusta Historic Theatre frequently.
“I just couldn’t retire and sit around,” Oliver said. “There are a lot of things that need to be done.”
From his time as a young man in a dense jungle fighting a war to a 67-year old who makes sure that local groups achieve their goals, Oliver has always made sure that he helped get things done.
That is why he is seen as a hero even though it is a title he would never claim.