ARTHUR, Ill. (WCIA) — The effects of war can last a lifetime. That’s why one Arthur veteran said he has dedicated his life to public service to help others forget about the trauma of Vietnam.

Richard Hein enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school. At the time, he thought the spread of communism spreading overseas was wrong and he wanted to help. But he left the military with more than just a Silver Star. He also left with crippling guilt and cancer from Agent Orange.

He wants to share his story so younger generations will know what veterans have done for the country. But it is still hard for him to tell the stories of the horrors of Vietnam.

“We would call in airstrikes and kill thousands and thousands of people. I didn’t care for that and I still don’t today,” Hein said, getting emotional as he did so. “I couldn’t apologize to that many people. I couldn’t.”

Not a day goes by where he doesn’t think about the war.

“I thought I was helping by eliminating communism and found out it wasn’t all about that,” Hein said. “I just didn’t like what I was getting involved in.”

It wasn’t until he got to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, North Vietnan’s main supply network during the war, in 1967 that he realized what was really happening.

“I had one of the worst jobs that could be placed over there,” Hein said. “I was a forward observer.”

He was responsible for finding where the enemy was.

“I ran a device called a Tipsy 21; that was an anti-personnel radar and we could locate people out in the jungle regardless of how thick it was.

Thankfully, Hein was never seriously hurt physically.

“When I got out of there, I was very thankful to leave alive, unlike a great many veterans did,” Hein said through the emotion.

Since coming home, he’s beaten cancer twice, a long-term effect of exposure to Agent Orange during the war. He’s also dedicated his life to public service.

“There’s 14 organizations that I work for here in this town and I’ve been in them for 40 to 50 years,” Hein said. “One of the main ones was the fire department. I’ve actually been involved with the fire department for 54 years.”

He’s also involved with the Arthur American Legion, VFW, Okaw Fire District, Douglas County Fire Association, Douglas and Moultrie County Dive Teams and the Douglas County Board.

“Trying to pay back our people for what I did to those people, I guess you could say,” Hein said.

Hein’s story is hard to hear, but he wants his vulnerability to be a poignant reminder of why people serve. He also encourages younger veterans to get involved with their local VFW and American Legion posts. When someone has seen war, sometimes the best people who can help them are those who have been through it too.