We continue our series of veteran profiles with Bill Nelson, UWVC Emeritus Board Member and Former Chairman and CEO of HBO. Bill was born in the Bronx, and served in Vietnam from 1969-1970 with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment (2/502nd), 101st Airborne Division.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Bill worked his way up through the ranks at HBO, and led the company through an unprecedented period of growth and change. He is now retired, but he continues to stay engaged with a wide range of veteran-related initiatives, including Hope for the Warriors, the National Veteran Business Development Council, Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Plaza and more. He is a recipient of the Veterans Advantage TOPVET award, the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Excellence in the Arts Award, VVA Commendation Medal, the U.S. Army’s inaugural Soldier For Life award, and is a member of the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.
Here’s how Bill responded to our 11 questions (Why 11? Hint: 11am on November 11, 1918…)
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1. HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE MILITARY?
My best buddy and I came from very patriotic families . So, we enlisted in the Army together because we felt it was the right thing to do with our country at war.
2. DID YOU HAVE VETERANS IN YOUR FAMILY?
All my uncles served with the Army in World War II, one of them from D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge. My father-in-law was in the Army; he was trained and in the Philippines, preparing to attack Japan, when the A-bombs were dropped . My father, who was disabled in one arm, went with his brothers to enlist, but was rejected. He never got over that disappointment.
3. WHERE EXACTLY DID YOU SIGN UP?
At a U.S. Army temporary enlistment trailer on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, NY. We were processed through Whitehall Street Induction Center in Lower Manhattan at the beginning of 1969.
4. WHAT WAS YOUR MAIN MOS/RATING/JOB?
My MOS was Eleven-Bravo (11B): Infantryman . For a good part of my combat tour I was a M-60 machine gunner. I earned my sergeant stripes in Vietnam.
5. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST NAME OF YOUR DRILL INSTRUCTOR?
Ha! Yes his first name was “Drill”… When we arrived by truck at the basic training company at night he screamed at us: “ You maggots will address me as Drill Sergeant!!! And don’t dare forget that! Now get the hell off that truck and the last man off is in deep s_ _t!” We yelled back: “Yes Drill Sergeant !!”
6. WHAT IS THE WORST THING YOU ATE IN THE MILITARY?
Tough-as-leather chipped beef in a really putrid congealed creamed sauce, slopped over stale slices of bread, affectionately referred to as SOS (S_ _t On a Shingle)
7. WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE DAY IN THE MILITARY?
Memorable: Graduating from Basic Training with top physical and mental aptitude scores. Unforgettable: The first day I choppered out to my platoon in the highlands jungle of Vietnam; the day I was extracted into the rear base camp at the end of my combat tour; and every day in-between…
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO THE DAY YOU GOT OUT OF THE MILITARY, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Find your footing, don’t let this experience consume you. Use this hard-earned maturity, focus, and strength to move beyond yesterday, and as you respectfully carry the memory of your fallen brothers, live a life – which they now cannot – in a way that would make them proud.
9. DID YOU HAVE ANY MENTORS WHO HELPED SHAPE YOUR PHILOSOPHY OR ACTIVITIES AS A VETERAN?
I was highly influenced by the selflessness and sacrifice of those I served with in Vietnam. I was fortunate to make it home in mostly one piece. And I knew I had to step forward and help those veterans who were in great need. It was through the NYC veterans community that I found the pathways to do just that, especially through the leadership of UWVC, Vietnam Veterans of America, and many others.
10. WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS A VETERAN?
I’ve had many proud moments as a veteran, so I’ll go to the first. As we know , Vietnam veterans did not return to a grateful nation. It was 1985, 10 years after the war, when Mayor Ed Koch (a WWII vet) dedicated the NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial the night of May 6th and hosted the largest “Welcome Home” parade for Vietnam vets the next morning. As we marched from Brooklyn over the bridge down Broadway’s “Canyon of Heroes“ we were cheered as the ticker tape filled the air above us. Our service and sacrifice was finally recognized. It was a pivotal moment that helped turn America’s attitude towards Vietnam vets to the positive. America remembered once again to honor the warrior, even if not the war. I’ll never forget that day May 7th 1985, nor the visionary Mayor Ed Koch, God rest his soul.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MILITARY-THEMED MOVIE OR BOOK? LEAST FAVORITE?
Favorites: “Band-of-Brothers“ (true WW2 mini-series) ; “Taking Chance “(true story of body escort’s journey across America, bringing young KIA Marine home to his final resting place ); “Baghdad ER” (Documentary with actual footage following real life battlefield doctors and nurses and their courage and dedication) Least Favorite: Delta Force (1986).