Only about 30% of Vietnam veterans are still around to tell their story. Dr. Harvey Lester is one of the lucky ones.

He sat down with Spectrum News to share how his experience helped shape the way he saw his community.

What You Need To Know

  • Dr. Harvey Lester served in Vietnam

  • He and his brother opened Polk County’s first and only African American Heritage museum

  • They run a nonprofit that has trained more than 3,000 students for success

“I appreciate everything the Army did for me; a young boy coming from Bartow – I was able to get my doctorates through the military.”

 However, it took Lester years before he could get to that point. He enlisted in the army right out of high school.

“I came out of high school June 3, 1966,” said Lester. “By June the 8th I had enlisted in the military.”

Lester says he was eager to serve his country.

“I first went in and wanted to be a chaplain assistant. But during that time, it was the height of the Vietnam and so, I became an infantry soldier,” he explained. “As an infantry soldier I trained in Fort Jackson, Louisiana in jungle training and then off to Vietnam.”

Sifting through piles of albums with old pictures of his recon team, Lester reminisced on those he lost in his time overseas.  

“There were 33 of us at first. Twenty three did not make it home,” Lester shared. “There are things that happened over there that you just don’t forget: images you may think of that disturb you.”

 Harvey spent 30 years in the military, working up the ranks.

“With all that training that I had while I was in the military, I put those skills to use by coming back and starting a non-profit organization.” 

Lester and his brother, Charles Luster, started the Luster All Training Center of Hope where they have trained just more than 3,000 students over the last 10 years.

The brothers are also credited with opening the first and only African American Museum in Polk County.

“History isn’t for you to like or dislike. It’s there for you to learn from. And if that means we have to see Mammy, then it’s okay, but we don’t want to do that again,” said Luster. “Know your history but don’t let your history become a burden to you.”

The brothers say perseverance is something they want to see more of in the younger black communities, adding that if we were able to overcome some of our history and still come out on top; the sky is the limit. ​