Monday, May 29, 2017


Remembering...  I woke this morning around 4 am, realized that today was Memorial Day, and started thinking about Luke, Dave, and Bill – the three people I knew who were killed in Vietnam.  For some reason Dave is the one who was foremost in my thoughts.  I knew him while attending “C” school for Data Systems Technicians (DS rating) at the Mare Island Navy base, near Vallejo, California in 1972.  Dave was a big, friendly, bear of a guy, from Nebraska if I remember correctly.  He entered the Navy without much in the way of math skills, and zero prior knowledge of electricity or electronics.  He'd struggled mightily to get through “BEEP” (basic electronics) school in San Diego, and was struggling harder in DS school.  After a few months, he was booted out of DS school – he just couldn't keep up with the pace.  At that time, students booted out of DS school were sent to the PBR (Patrol Boat, River) school, also at Mare Island.  There Dave excelled, as we heard when he proudly came to see his DS friends after graduating – and just before deploying to Vietnam.  He was in Vietnam for just a couple of months when he was killed by sniper fire from the shores of a river whose name I've long since forgotten.  I didn't learn of his death until after I'd deployed to the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), when I came across an article about the incident in which he and another crew member were killed.  His photo was there, and caught my eye. 

Within the Navy, the PBRs in Vietnam were notorious for their high casualty rate (casualty, to the military, is both deaths and injuries).  Depending on what source you find, the casualty rate was between 5% and 8% of the crews per month.  At a 6%/month rate, if you served on a PBR crew for a year, you had more than a 50% chance of being a casualty.  By comparison the four years I served on the USS Long Beach were effectively risk-free.

I didn't know Dave all that well, but nevertheless well enough to know that he had no well-formed rationale to support risking his life in Vietnam.  He'd have simply seen it as his duty, once he'd signed up to serve his country.  I remember Dave as one of the few young men willing to say he saw signing up for the Navy as his patriotic duty.  At the time ('71), the country was being rocked by antiwar protests, and many – perhaps most – young people perceived military people as despicable “baby killers”, and someone unabashedly patriotic, like Dave, really stood out.

I shed some tears for you today, Dave, and I'll be thinking of you all day...

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