BERKS, Pa. | To an 18-year-old, the idea of a golden coast and far away adventure is alluring. And when it comes with a promise, it seems like the best choice, especially to a teen in the late 60's.
Just out of high school, Walter Gensemer met with recruiters from every branch of the military. They all promised he wouldn't go to Vietnam, and the Army guaranteed they'd send him to school with three years in California.
But when he graduated from helicopter repair school in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Walt got the news he was promised he would never get.
"I knew I wasn't going to Vietnam, you know, and I'll never forget, 'Private Walt Gensemer, [you're] going to Vietnam.'" Walt recalled. "That's how I got my orders for Vietnam. At first I thought, ok well, I'll go to Vietnam and I'll repair helicopters and I won't be in any action or anything like that."
"Well that was wrong too, so," Walt told 69 News reporters.
Walt worked as a door gunner, a crew chief who was afraid of heights, and was in the air 325 days out of the first 365, manning two M-60 machine guns.
"I'd see these guys, the line troops, who were going through the jungle and everything and we were getting shot at too," Walt noted. "But as as far as I'm concerned they had it 100 times worse than we did."
The Hueys flew just over the treetops, out in front of troops on the ground. Walt's was shot down three times. On one mission, shrapnel went through both of his legs.
One purple heart and two days later, Walt was back in the air, like it was nothing but a scrape. They were flying combat missions and saving lives.
Again and again, flying into the gunfire, landing in the jungle, Walt would run out and bring wounded soldiers back with him.
"You got a job to do. You got men depending on you, and you just did what you had to do. I wasn't a hero, and I just did what I had to do. I don't know if I ever really went above and beyond," said Walt.
The men onboard those Hueys are credited with rescuing more than 90,000 wounded in Vietnam. Walt spent two years there, surviving the horrors of war. But nothing could have prepared him for coming home.
"There was, you know, there's one of those guys, one of them guys. You know, that hurt. I was proud I came home with some medals. I did what I had to do," said Walt. "I don't personally take credit for saving lives but I was involved with saving lives, and here I am thinking, they think I'm the scum of the earth. Yeah, that hurts."
In the years since, Walt's continued to dedicate his life to service. He works with veterans struggling with addiction at the Berks County Veterans Treatment Court, he mentors veteran inmates at the Berks County Jail, and he speaks at schools and community groups sharing his experiences with PTSD.
As a hospice volunteer, he's there with veterans until their last breath. He chooses service over self every time, with no man ever left behind.