Decorated Vietnam veteran Hilton “Bear” Bryant, a humble Green Beret who rarely spoke of his heroics in battle, died on Jan. 31, at Palestine Regional Medical Center, following a lengthy illness. He was 75 and lived in Palestine.
Growing up in a Philadelphia housing project, Bryant had to struggle long before he hit the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.
The day after he graduated from high school, Bryant's mother, Lottie Cargle, took him to the armed forces recruiting offices in Philadelphia. She pointed to the separate buildings for the Army, Navy, and Marines. “Pick one,” she said.
“Bear went to high school in the projects,” Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 991 Chaplain Richard Dahlgren told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “His mother didn't want him to end up in that life – or on some slab for something that happened to him beyond his control.”
Dahlgren called his friend a 'consummate soldier,' with 22 years of distinguished service in the U.S. Army.
During basic training, Bryant was accepted to U.S. Army Airborne school. A short time later, he earned the distinction of Special Forces Green Beret.
Nicknamed “Bear” by his fellow soldiers because of the muscular, 250 pounds he carried on his 5'9” frame, Bryant served three combat tours in Vietnam. He earned multiple medals and awards, including three Purple Hearts for wounds in battle, and two Bronze Stars for heroic and meritorious achievements of service.
An avid marksman, and a black-belt in Karate, Bryant was a humble man who rarely spoke of his military service.
“We were married for 42 years,” his wife, Beverly, 76, said. “In that time, he never once spoke of his time in Vietnam.”
After retiring from the Army in 1983, Bryant and his wife settled in Palestine. There, Bryant worked as a corrections officer and, for 20 years, as a reserve officer for the Palestine Police Department.
“He worked long weeks as a corrections officer out at the Coffield Unit,” Beverly Bryant said. “On the weekends, he'd work as a police officer. He loved helping people.
“He loved this city. He always said he owed it to the people of Palestine to do all he could for the folks here.”
Bryant was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Charles A. Spikes Military Consistory.
Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Vietnam Veterans of America's Chapter 991 building, 727 Gardner Drive, Palestine, with the Rev. Richard Dahlgren officiating.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 991.
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