Dennis Helms grew up in Monroe, North Carolina, and met his wife when he was a junior in high school. Shortly after graduation, they were married. He was the produce manager at the Piggly Wiggly when he was drafted in 1968, and went to Basic Training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. After Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, he deployed to Vietnam, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. In April 1969, his helicopter was shot down, and he and several other Soldiers were on the ground for 45 minutes. When the Division determined that it was too dangerous to send in more helicopters to get them out, LTC Honeycutt, the Battalion Commander, argued for their rescue, and eventually they were air-lifted out. Serving in 1st Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, Helms eventually became the RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) for 1LT Frank Boccia, a platoon leader who really cared about his Soldiers, but could also “chew butt” when necessary. As RTO, Helms got to know Boccia so well that he could anticipate what the platoon leader needed. At the battle of Hamburger Hill, he went with Boccia to link up with C Company after their fight on May 14 and bring them back into the B Company perimeter. On May 15, B Company was hit with Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA) and suffered casualties. After completing his tour in Vietnam, he worked as a Veterans Coordinator and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the North Carolina National Guard before being called to the ministry. He served as a Southern Baptist minister for 30 years.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, meeting his wife, and being drafted. He describes his experiences in Vietnam, providing a detailed perspective of the fight at Hamburger Hill. He reflects on his ministry and work with Veterans, admitting that talking with Veterans helped him deal with some of his own stress, while at the same time adding other stresses to his life. Finally, he discusses the importance of reunions, and ends by explaining what his service means to him.