My War Story

This is the third installment of our Lessons From War series, but we’re doing it a little bit different this week. Let us know what you think.

Two young men from the Bronx, N.Y. enlisted in the Army together in February 1969.

They had spent most of their teen years hanging around their neighborhood, double dating together, playing sports together and were the best “eight ball” team at the local billiards place. They both graduated from high school and had gone off to different colleges and at the end of 1968, the Vietnam War was raging.

John Francis Ward approached his friend Bill Nelson about voluntarily joining the military to serve their country. They discussed the risks and pledged to each other they would join up and serve as infantrymen in Vietnam.

After enlisting, they headed off to basic training and advanced individual training for light weapons infantry. They trained together at Fort Jackson, S.C. and were both assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and went through Screaming Eagle Training for in country air assault and jungle warfare training.

That was the last time Bill saw his friend John.

John was assigned to the 2/237th “No Slack” Infantry Regiment of the 101st and Bill went to the 2/502nd “Strike Force” Infantry Regiment of the 101st.

Bill said he would always remember their parting words an embrace that day.

The friends sent letters every few weeks and knew that the other was seeing combat, as infantry grunts, just as they’d planned.

Bill thought he saw John at a major redeployment north of Camp Eagle, but couldn’t shout over the helicopters and transports.

The next he heard, John had been killed during a night operation against the Viet Cong infiltrations in October 1969. Bill escorted his friend’s body home and returned to Vietnam to finish his tour. “I’ll always care with me the memory of him and the men in my unit who fell,” Bill said.

He said of his time in Vietnam: “There were many similar effects on everyone in my unit. We all felt like we matured several years in a span of a few months. We formed deep respect, trust and bond for each other. We all realized that we could be challenged beyond what we thought were our mental and physical limits and still keep functioning. We were in a brotherhood and looked out for each other in a very selfless, honest and sincere way. I will never forget the men I served with.”

One of the Bronx boys has his name etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. John Francis Ward is honored on Panel 17W, Row 46.

Bill Nelson came home from Vietnam and left the Army as a sergeant. He went on to become the chairman and CEO of Home Box Office (HBO). He said many of the skills and traits that helped him move up the corporate ladder, he learned in Vietnam.

“The area that helped me most significantly is a true spirit of collaboration and principal of teamwork. I attribute my deep understanding of the power of team spirit to my experience in Vietnam. Since the war, I have lived with a ‘We are all in this together,’ mentality, ensuring that everyone conducts themselves always, and especially in the most challenging situation, in a way that supports the team effort.”

To Bill, the Education Center at The Wall is a tribute to those who stepped forward for American across our long history and it will bring insight and understanding to those who visit and absorb the messages emanating from the Center.

“The Center will not only teach about the valor, service and sacrifice of our military, it will inspire, motivate and instill a sense of honor and respect for those who put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of this great nation,” Bill said. “The magnitude of their selflessness will be amplified through the Education Center and resonate with those who pass through its doors.”

About Bill Nelson:

Bill Nelson is chairman and CEO for Home Box Office, responsible for the overall management of the world’s largest premium television company which operates multiple premium networks in the United States, branded joint ventures and On Demand services internationally as well as other ancillary businesses. He was named to this position in June 2007.

Previously, Nelson was chief operating officer, a position he held since July 2002.  Nelson joined HBO in May 1984 as vice president and assistant controller, responsible for the financial aspects of HBO’s general management, international finance and sales and marketing groups.

Before joining HBO, Nelson worked for Time Inc. for five years as a director, External Reporting and Risk Management.  Earlier, from 1975 to 1979, he served as an audit supervisor for Ernst & Young, a public accounting firm in New York where he became a CPA.

Nelson holds a BBA degree in accounting and finance and an MBA from Pace University in New York.  He also completed Harvard University’s Program for Management Development. He is currently a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants.

Read the full Q&A here.