Decades after the last grenade exploded and the final rifle was fired, the Vietnam War still rages inside Tony Bresina.

The former U.S. Army infantryman, a longtime resident of Buffalo in Wright County, has battled alcoholism, considered suicide and a decade ago was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He still has visions of friends dying, intrusive images of one soldier being decapitated by helicopter blades and nightmares about the bloody assault on Hamburger Hill, one of the defining moments of the war.

Bresina, 59, is reliving the mortar attacks, the shrapnel showers, the grenade explosions and the snipers' bullets this week as a result of his featured role in a National Geographic TV documentary, "Inside the Vietnam War."

The first showing of the three-hour documentary was Monday. Bresina said he couldn't bear to watch and doubts he will watch encore presentations this weekend.

"I think it's going to be pretty graphic," said Bresina, who retired last month after 32 years as a maintenance worker with the St. Michael-Albertville School District. "I'm going to wait, talk to family and friends, and see what they think."

Barbara Bresina, his wife, said she thought it was important that her husband participate in the documentary.

"The final decision was up to Tony," she said. "I see it as a healing thing for Tony and as kind of a legacy he can leave his kids. It's taking an experience that was life-changing and not positive and turning it into something positive and maybe helping other people."

But she, too, is hesitant about watching. "I could take it or leave it," she said. "I've seen the effects of it. His anxiety has been increased anticipating this and thinking about it."

Tony Bresina was among hundreds of soldiers interviewed by National Geographic. He spent several days last year at home in Buffalo being filmed and telling his stories about living with death.

"I was worked up for days after they were here," said Bresina, who admitted he was hesitant about participating in the documentary. "I didn't know if I wanted to dig this ... up."

Ultimately, he agreed to the interviews because he thought they might help other Vietnam veterans -- especially after he heard that National Geographic was going to portray the war from the soldier's perspective.

"This hasn't been done, at least not recently, where the Vietnam War was shown through a soldier's perspective," said Michael Cascio, senior vice president of special programming for the National Geographic Channel.

The interviews were conducted among all ranks and branches of the military. While reliving their years of service was difficult for some Vietnam veterans, others found it therapeutic, he said.

"They wanted to talk," Cascio said. "For some of them, it was as if they had never been asked these questions."

In the documentary, Bresina becomes the face and the spokesman for the infantrymen who were on the front lines fighting in the jungles, climbing mountains, traversing rivers and descending into valleys throughout Vietnam.

"It was hell," said Bresina, who was stationed in Vietnam for a little more than a year in 1969 and 1970, spending most of that time fighting at close quarters in the jungles. "I don't remember the last couple of months in the bush. They're just lost to me."

The most difficult time during his tour was the taking of what U.S. military command designated Hill 937, but which infantrymen like Bresina quickly christened "Hamburger Hill" because of the way soldiers were chewed up during the assault on the mountain.

The battle, the last major ground assault of the war, lasted for 10 days, from May 10 to May 20 in 1969 in the A Shau Valley. At least 70 members of the 101st Airborne Division died and 372 were wounded in the taking of the hill, which had limited tactical significance.

Eventually a book was written about the battle by Samuel Zaffiri. Bresina consulted on the book, and his story is told in several of its pages.

Bresina's Bravo Company took the brunt of the attack. The losses included an incident in which U.S. helicopter gunships mistook members of his battalion for the enemy, killing two and wounding 35.

"They'd bring those thousand-pound bombs so close to us that some of our guys were getting hurt by them," Bresina said. "You could actually see the shock wave coming down the mountain -- the trees were bending. If you were standing up, it would knock you down."

The outcry over the heavy losses changed U.S. strategy in the war away from frontal assaults. The criticism mounted when the hill was given back to the enemy three weeks after it was taken.

Bresina said he didn't think about any of that during the battle or even after; there was no time. The only thing on his mind was staying alive and getting home.

"All I was concerned about was surviving and getting the hell out of there," he said.

After the war, survivor's guilt set in because Bresina -- unlike his friend "Jugs" and others like Tom St. Onge -- never made it home alive.

"I have a lot of guilt about my buddies getting injured or killed, and I came out of it with all of my limbs," Bresina said. He was awarded a Purple Heart after a head injury caused by a grenade explosion.

After his time in the service, he got married, and he and his wife, Barbara, raised two daughters. But his difficulties continued.

"Them girls went through a pretty rough time with me until I got help," he said. "Everything had to be quiet. And you know how kids are, they'd run around and I would come unglued. But that was part of Vietnam, because you had to be so quiet going through the bush."

Bresina gives a lot of credit to his wife for helping him through the rough times.

"I don't know how she put up with me," he said. "She's put up with a lot. I don't know if the roles were reversed if I would have stuck around. But she stuck with me, which says an awful lot about her character."

Herón Márquez Estrada • 612-673-4280