5

... but me! They [the other four POWs] were all in the room but Hefner, and he was standing in the door. They put Hefner in solitary in the next room over, and then he had an appendicitis attack that night, and they had to operate on him. So, they put him in the room next to were we was at and had to leave the door open. Everybody was going back and forth the the latrine, and they seen him a laying in there in a hospital bed and figured they [the NVA] had beat the hell outta Danny. But, hell, they didn't see me for a week! They didn’t know what had happened to me.”

To Hell and Beyond.

But, hell, they didn't see me for a week!

I would imagine it's something to boost your self-confidence up and make you care less about the situation. Is that close? Does it have any other meaning in any other context?

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    I think it's a curse. – Damkerng T. Jan 3 '14 at 14:54
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It's an intensifier, mildly obscene, which comes before a statement or clause. It does not necessarily express a negative attitude:

"You wanna know if I'll buy a car from you? Hell, I'll buy three of 'em!"

This is a little old-fashioned, and you don't hear it so much these days, probably because "hell" has on the one hand lost a lot of its shock value as a swear word but on the other hand is still considered mildly obscene and avoided in polite speech (except in reference to the religious conception of hell).

You can insert (some) other swear words instead of "hell" to mean the same thing, but this is to be avoided except in very casual speech among friends, obviously. Non-obscene versions of the same are "heck" (sounds a little childish), "man" (a little 1980s), "dang" (maybe only in the American South).

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    Shoot, this is a good answer... – J.R. Jan 3 '14 at 16:39
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    I think these uses of "hell" are profane, not obscene. "Profane" has connotations of "taking a religious name in vain", whereas "obscene" has connotations of greed, gluttony, or gratuitous sexual imagery. – Jasper Sep 25 '14 at 22:10
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    @Jasper Very true, but I think on ELL in particular it is then necessary to point out that most native speakers are unaware of the technical distinctions between profanity, obscenity, and expletive, and use all three synonymously. – KRyan Jun 18 '15 at 17:04
4

It's being used as an expletive to indicate annoyance. It's hard to be certain from the context, but the narrator is probably annoyed that Hefner is getting undue sympathy from the other POWs, and the narrator is getting none because no one knew where he was or what was happening to him.

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