[caption id="attachment_6647" align="alignleft" width="300"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang01sm.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6647" src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang01sm-300x195.jpg" alt="Homer Hunter with two Vietnamese children near Danang in 1965. While serving as a Marine in Vietnam, Corporal Hunter helped a Catholic missionary start a laundry service at a refugee camp, which enabled the camp to make money and support thousands of refugees, who were fleeing communist invaders. Homer Hunter pictures." width="300" height="195" \/><\/a> Homer Hunter with two Vietnamese children near Danang in 1965. While serving as a Marine in Vietnam, Corporal Hunter helped a Catholic missionary start a laundry service at a refugee camp, which enabled the camp to make money and support thousands of refugees, who were fleeing communist invaders. Homer Hunter pictures.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nAt six-foot, five inches, Homer Hunter is hard to miss. The big man from Stony Bottom is a familiar face around Pocahontas County. He plays guitar and is well-known for his performances with old-time and bluegrass music groups. If people don't know Hunter from church, concerts or around town, then they've probably heard his voice on local radio, where he hosts a radio show every now and then.\r\n\r\nIt seems like everybody knows the strapping guitar player and what a humble and decent fellow he is. But only a few know that Homer was part of an amazing endeavor while serving as a Marine in Vietnam. It wasn't a secret combat mission \u2013 but a project that affected thousands of lives. Hunter and a small group of fellow Marines discovered a humanitarian crisis - by accident - and took action to help refugees help themselves.\r\n\r\nHunter was a corporal in the Third Marine Division, the first U.S. division to land in Vietnam. After coming ashore in 1965, there was no base for the Marines to occupy, so they set up a\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_6656" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang05sm1.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6656" src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang05sm1-300x196.jpg" alt="Homer Hunter with fellow Marines in the Third Marine Division in Danang in 1965. Hunter was assigned to a small headquarters unit that managed ammunition and other supplies. On a supply run to Danang, Hunter and two of these Marines would have a chance encounter that resulted in a major, successful humanitarian project. Pictured, left to right: Hunter, Lance Corporal Joe Kettler, Sergeant Rusnak and Lieutenant Dean. " width="300" height="196" \/><\/a> Homer Hunter with fellow Marines in the Third Marine Division in Danang in 1965. Hunter was assigned to a small headquarters unit that managed ammunition and other supplies. On a supply run to Danang, Hunter and two of these Marines would have a chance encounter that resulted in a major, successful humanitarian project. Pictured, left to right: Hunter, Lance Corporal Joe Kettler, Sergeant Rusnak and Lieutenant Dean.[\/caption]\r\n\r\ntent city and scratched out a headquarters on muddy mountain slopes outside of Danang Air Base. Hunter was assigned to a small headquarters unit of about a dozen Marines who managed ammunition and other supplies for the division. He set up a cot underneath a tent flap at the unit's command post, where he would sleep for more than a year.\r\n\r\nPart of Hunter's duties involved traveling into Danang to get supplies for his unit. On one such trip, Corporal Hunter was accompanied by his unit officer, Lieutenant Dean, and another young Marine, Sergeant Rusnak.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe went to Danang to get some supplies for our unit,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cLieutenant Dean liked to drive. He wasn't supposed to drive, but he liked to drive. So, he was driving and we got lost. I told them, 'Boys, we're lost. We are not on the right road.' I have a pretty good sense of direction. We didn't know where we were at.\u201d\r\n\r\nA mishap on the muddy backroad would lead to a chance encounter with some local residents.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere was a bridge across a little creek,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cWe come across a little bridge and a civilian oil truck had got stuck in the mud. We slid up and knocked a valve off that truck.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhen the Marines stopped to help the truck driver, a crowd of local villagers gathered around, fascinated by the tall Americans \u2013 especially towering Corporal Hunter.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_6648" align="alignleft" width="300"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang02sm.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6648" src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang02sm-300x192.jpg" alt="The Third Marine Division was the first U.S. division to deploy to Vietnam. The Marine's initial mission was to provide security at Danang Air Base, but the mission soon expanded to include offensive combat operations against communist forces. Stony Bottom resident Homer Hunter took this picture at the Danang Marine Compound, shortly after the Third Marine Division's arrival in South Vietnam in 1965." width="300" height="192" \/><\/a> The Third Marine Division was the first U.S. division to deploy to Vietnam. The Marine's initial mission was to provide security at Danang Air Base, but the mission soon expanded to include offensive combat operations against communist forces. Stony Bottom resident Homer Hunter took this picture at the Danang Marine Compound, shortly after the Third Marine Division's arrival in South Vietnam in 1965.[\/caption]\r\n\r\n\u201cWe got out and there was nobody there but that truck driver,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cThen, all of a sudden, all of these people showed up. They looked like farmers or whoever \u2013 women, children, men. They were all jabbering and looking at us, because we were the first Marines they had ever seen. We were trying to talk and they couldn't speak a word of English and we didn't know any Vietnamese.\u201d\r\n\r\nAs Lieutenant Dean stooped over to speak to one of the villagers, a cross on a chain fell out of his fatigue shirt. One of the children noticed the cross and scampered away.\r\n\r\n\u201cHe kind of jabbered and took off up the road,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cI said, 'You know, that's strange. Where is he going? We better get ready and get some kind of a defense set up here.'\u201d\r\n\r\nTwenty minutes later, the youngster returned.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt took him about 20 minutes and he came back with a Catholic priest,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cHe saw that the lieutenant had the same cross as that priest and he knew that priest could speak English.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe priest greeted the Marines and said his name was Father Roy, a Catholic missionary. The priest translated for the Marines and explained to the worried truck driver that the Americans would get his truck fixed. The young troops asked Father Roy what he was doing in the Vietnamese countryside.\r\n\r\n\u201cI asked him, 'Do you have a church nearby?'\u201d recalled Hunter. \u201cHe said, 'No, I'm at a refugee camp with 5,000 refugees \u2013 and they are starving.'\u201d\r\n\r\nThousands of refugees had flooded into the camp from north of Danang, where fighting between communist invaders and the South Vietnamese army had intensified. As the communists expanded their war of terror in the south, the refugee population would continue to soar.\r\n\r\nConcerned with Father Roy's dilemma, but keenly aware of their own plight on an unsecure road, miles from their base, the three Marines got back into their Jeep and departed.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_6650" align="alignright" width="300"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang04sm.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6650" src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang04sm-300x217.jpg" alt="Corporal Homer Hunter took this picture of impoverished Vietnamese children in 1965. Hunter worked to establish a laundry operation at a refugee camp, which allowed the camp to become self-sufficient and provide food and clothing to families displaced by a communist invasion of South Vietnam." width="300" height="217" \/><\/a> Corporal Homer Hunter took this picture of impoverished Vietnamese children in 1965. Hunter worked to establish a laundry operation at a refugee camp, which allowed the camp to become self-sufficient and provide food and clothing to families displaced by a communist invasion of South Vietnam.[\/caption]\r\n\r\n\u201cWe talked to Father Roy for awhile, but we wanted to find our way home,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cWe were driving along, finding our way back to base, and Lieutenant Dean came up with this idea \u2013 that those refugees could do our laundry. We were washing our own clothes back at base and that is hard to do. So we went to the camp, got dirty laundry and went back. We told Father Roy what we had in mind and he was tickled to death.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe priest realized the enormous potential of a laundry service for a newly arrived Marine division. The service could generate income to support the camp and help the refugees survive. But the project got off to a rocky start.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe first load of laundry we picked up \u2013 they had washed it by beating it on rocks with sticks,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cIt was the rainy season and they had tried to dry it in a big bamboo shelter with a wood fire, and it stunk. The clothing, you couldn't wear it.\u201d\r\n\r\nHunter and his Marine buddies helped Father Roy upgrade the camp's laundry operation.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe went to the air base and we picked up wash tubs, washboards, soap powder, and we taught the people how to do laundry,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cThen we had a couple stoves made at the unit from some drums, where they could put heat in there without having the smoke in there.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe supplies and training were all the industrious Vietnamese needed. Within a few months, Father Roy was managing a business with more than 2,000 paying customers and his camp had money to buy food and clothing for its ever growing refugee population.\r\n\r\n\u201cPretty soon, everybody was taking their laundry there,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cWithin a 10 to 12-mile radius, we had five units that were putting their laundry in there.\u201d\r\n\r\nHunter and his buddies worked hard themselves to make the project a success. For months, they picked up and delivered laundry for units on the Marine Compound. But Father Roy's business outgrew that arrangement.\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_6649" align="alignleft" width="300"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang03sm.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6649" src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2014\/11\/HomerHunterDanang03sm-300x220.jpg" alt="Corporal Homer Hunter on duty at a guard post in Danang, South Vietnam in 1965. The city of Danang is in the background. " width="300" height="220" \/><\/a> Corporal Homer Hunter on duty at a guard post in Danang, South Vietnam in 1965. The city of Danang is in the background.[\/caption]\r\n\r\n\u201cWe were hauling that laundry and it was working us silly,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cWe had work to do at the office and we were dragging that laundry.\u201d\r\n\r\nOnce again, the resourceful Marines came up with a solution.\r\n\r\n\u201cA couple of the guys went to Saigon and bought two, little, three-wheel trucks,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cThey brought them back and the people at the camp started hauling the laundry. By the time I left there, they had five trucks.\u201d\r\n\r\nFather Roy \u2013 a lone missionary when he met the Marines \u2013 received some church support because of the laundry's success.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen it started, it was just that Catholic priest,\u201d said Hunter. \u201cBut he had some help come in later because the laundry got so big. And the camp kept growing. The refugees kept coming and the camp was food and protection. We had bases pretty close around there.\u201d\r\n\r\nHunter is proud to have taken part in the project.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe were feeding 5,000 people and buying them clothes,\u201d he said. \u201cIn 11 months or whatever it took, we were feeding 5,000 people. To me, that is one of the most humane things I've ever done in my life. I helped start that laundry and I worked night and day on that thing. I did my work, plus the laundry work. We did a Christian thing, a wonderful thing.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe chain of events that led to the start of the refugee laundry is almost incredible. If Lieutenant Dean hadn't broken Marine rules by driving the Jeep; if the young officer hadn't taken a wrong turn; if the lost Marines hadn't bumped into the oil truck on a muddy back road; if an observant child hadn't seen the cross dangling from a Marine's neck; and if the Americans had not cared about the plight of the refugees, the project never would have happened. But it did happen and the outcome was a tremendous humanitarian success. Still, the full ramifications will never be known.\r\n\r\nHow many lives were saved by the refugee camp becoming self-sufficient? How many children got food and decent clothes? How many were able to get an education? How many refugee families survived and made their way to the United States or some other country? How many remained in Vietnam, under a different regime, but with memories of a few Americans who cared?\r\n\r\nMany years after his service in Vietnam, Hunter tried to locate his friends from Danang, but had no luck. He hopes to make contact with Father Roy someday.