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Veteran Spotlight

J. Dave Bennett September 24, 1946 Viet Nam War U.S. Army, 2nd Battalion, 94th Artillery - SPC 4

In 1965 Dave Bennett got a letter saying, “Greetings from the President of the United States.  Your friends and neighbors have chosen you…” – the infamous draft notice. His family doctor offered to get him an out. Even though Dave knew absolutely he would go to Vietnam, he felt service was his duty and he said, “no” to a deferment.

In December, four busloads of guys including Dave left Michigan and reported to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for basic training. The time was reduced from 12 to 8 weeks – Dave believes this was to get guys into combat quicker. He went through basic military stuff for infantry such as how to shoot a rifle, take orders, salute, stand at attention, etc.

Dave got a leave to go home at Christmas and another 10-day leave after basic training, and then he reported to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for artillery training. He went for his AIT (Advanced Individual Training) to the 2nd Battalion, 36th Artillery in September, 1966.  After a couple of months he went to the 94th, which was either a newly formed, or reactivated unit. This was one of two experiments where the whole battalion, officers and men, was sent to Vietnam. Of course Dave didn’t know he was an experiment until he got back.

On Sept. 24, 1966 Dave went by troop ship from San Francisco, California to Vietnam.  He remembers this date well – it was his 20th birthday. The 30-day trip was quite an experience. Some guys were sick the entire 30 days. One guy got sick standing on the pier as it shifted in the water before he was even on board. The ship was originally headed for Saigon, Vietnam but turned when it was almost there and went to Da Nang, Vietnam instead. There was no pier there so the men went over the side into LST’s (Tank Landing Ship) for an amphibious landing at Red Beach. This spot is just north of China Beach, famous for the TV series.

From Da Nang, Dave convoyed north to Dong Ha and then about 12 miles more inland to Marine Artillery Base Camp JJ Carroll where he could finally unpack. His first duty was as a radio operator forward observer, or as his mom called it, “a scout for the wagon train.” One time he saw a situation map of the area that was green with about a half dozen red spots.  He asked, “What are the red spots?” Answer, “friendlies.”  “What’s the green?”  Answer, “VC Territory.” (Viet Cong) Not encouraging, and they were often under fire.  

Dave and his Lieutenant were most often in the jungle without a specific routine. The unit spent lot of time providing protection for the Marine engineers who were rebuilding a road from Dong Ha to Khe Sahn. They camped out at night with the engineers. They lived on C-rations dated 1941 - five years older than Dave! They were bad. Later they got improved C-rations from 1964 – only two to three years old. Periodically Dave would be back at base camp and send and receive mail. He waited two months for his first mail – a letter from his mom at Thanksgiving time. His mom had the terrible news that his best friend from kindergarten on had been killed on his 20th birthday, just a short ways from where Dave was standing, and a short time before Dave got there.

The picture of Dave in the jungle is with some of the Montagnards who were cutting brush by hand for the road. They were paid in rice, and the father is collecting for everyone in his family who worked, including the young boy in the picture. Montagnards were a proud mountain people who didn’t want to be associated with anything Vietnamese. They considered the Vietnamese language to be “devil tongue.”

In April, 1967 Dave moved out of his unit to the 3rd Battalion, 18th Artillery. He remembers vividly and sadly a mortar attack in June when he lost a very good friend. It’s still a very emotional memory. This was the battle where Dave earned his Purple Heart. He spent three weeks in a hospital in Cam Rahn Bay. He was sent back to his unit only to learn he had missed his R&R (Rest and Relaxation). Evidently he was supposed to rest and relax in the hospital!

The rest of his time in Vietnam was uneventful. He and four or five other guys were sent out before their tour was over. He flew to Seattle where, since he had fewer than 90 days left, he qualified for early out.  He mustered out and then flew back home to Michigan, arriving four days before his birthday. With pay for the 90 days he had left, 30 days paid leave, and two months back pay, he had a big wad of $20 bills.

Dave says the war taught him never to trust a politician. He believes the war was all about money, and it helped bail the U.S. out of a recession. He has no doubt they could have liberated South Vietnam, but winning and ending the war wasn’t in President Johnson’s plan.

The little rural community of 500 that Dave called home was not much into protesting the war even though they lost four young men. The worst example, which he will always remember, was on his way home at a gift shop in O’Hare Airport. The young clerk handed him his purchase and said, “There you go, baby-killer.” Today Dave asks, “When you look at me in this jungle picture, do I look like a baby-killer?” When he got home, Dave took his uniform off and vowed never to put it on again. He said he was just happy he made it out alive.

Today it blows his mind that so many teenagers and other young people who see his cap will say, “Thank you for your service.”

We join in that – thank you for your service, Dave.

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