By NEIL ZAWICKI
Bill Orr is a quiet man with a lot of heavy Vietnam war stories.
The retired postal carrier stays busy these days with historical reenactments, restoring military vehicles, and gathering truckloads of donated medical supplies and making financial donations to Doctors Without Borders, the nonprofit medical group that brings medical care to areas where poverty and war mean there is little access to such care.
For the past four years, Orr and his wife Gail have been gathering the supplies for the organization. The supplies come from sources, with Samaritan House being a major source. They have barns, vans, and shelves filled with durable medical goods, vitamins, over the counter drugs, and other items. Each month a truck collects the supplies.
“A lot of this stuff is out-of-date medicine,” said Orr. “But they don’t care about that in a foreign country.”
The supplies Orr gathers— wheelchairs, walkers, respirators, and any other medical supply he can find— are loaded into shipping containers and sent to places like Bolivia and the Philippines. Generally, the equipment he gets his hands on is damaged, so he takes the time to repair those before sending them off.
Orr’s friend, Renny Love, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Jericho who served in the early 2000s, said he was amazed when he discovered the scope of Orr’s medical supply donation gathering.
“Every time I come here there’s something new that he’s giving away,” said Love.
Love talked about the time a semi truck had to make 15 trips just to take away a portion of the donated equipment.
“And there’s still a bunch left,” he said.
Orr, an American Legion member, said he and his wife got involved when the Milton Food Shelf stopped gathering the medical supplies because it was feared the shipments would fall into the wrong hands.
Maybe that part, about getting shipments of supplies to violent and unstable places, is a good fit for Orr. He flew helicopters with the 1st Cavalry in Vietnam, and later flew for Air America, the CIA-backed operation that ferried supplies into Laos and Cambodia. But his time in the war involved more than just flying: He’s been shot six times, and still has a round lodged next to his spine. Asked about his work gathering medical supplies compared to his time during the war, Orr has a blunt answer:
“I was killing people back then,” he said. “And I was a violent person when I came back.”
Orr talked about the day he rotated home, saying he was “killing people on Wednesday and sitting in his living room on Thursday.” He talks about how he and his fellow soldiers counted themselves dead once they got there, and how that attitude made it easier to function.
“You automatically mark yourself dead and carry on,” he said.
He tells a story about playing a knife toss game with his fellow soldiers: If you stuck the other guy in the foot then you got to drink his beer.
“We were already dead, what did it matter?” said Orr. Then he’ll talk about killing 30 people in a VC tunnel using a satchel full of hand grenades. He keeps a captured SKS—a Chinese-made version of the AK-47 rifle—in his house. The rifle is stained with blood.
“I can never make up for all the evil I’ve done in life,” he said. “But I can try to make the world a better place now.”