Their photographs seem more at home in the ‘40s than the ‘60s, yet career soldiers Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand (left) and Maj. Dale Buis, right, and are my comrades; today they would have been 95 and 88, respectively.
They died together, along with two South Vietnamese soldiers during a Viet Cong attack on their outpost in Bien Hoa, July 8, 1959; I was in the fifth grade.
In the purist’s view of war, they were assassinated more than “killed in action”; in the early days of the war the VC were more terrorists in scope than a military unit… much like today’s al-Qaeda or Hamas.
The Viet Cong targeting the outpost had penetrated the center of the base and surrounded the darkened mess hall, taking up firing positions at various windows. When Ovnand switched on the lights to change movie reels, the VC sprayed automatic weapons fire into the small room.
In the first murderous hail of bullets, Ovnand and Major Buis fell and died within minutes. Captain Howard Boston of Blairsburg, Iowa was seriously wounded. Vietnamese troops arrived quickly, but the rest of the VC had fled.
Buis had arrived in country just two days before and Ovnand was just 30 days away from ending his yearlong tour and heading home when they were killed. Both were assigned to MAAG (U.S. Army Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam). Buis left a wife and three sons, one whom survives, but little is known about Ovnand other than he was married.
Based on eyewitness accounts, Buis is listed as the first American killed in the Vietnam War, and Ovnand the second… Panel 1E, Row 1.
- Ovnand (also called Charles Ovnand, but listed on The Wall as Chester) was from Copperas Cove, Texas
- Army records conflict as to his name—Charles Melvin Ovnand or Chester Melvin Ovnard—though that the latter appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; probably a result of general consensus among the planners.
- But…. his name is misspelled on The Wall as Chester N. Ovnard.
As must we all, I’ve made my peace with “becoming part of history”, taking my place along side the WWII/Korean War generation… and in reality, WWI and the Civil War for that matter. That’s the fate of old soldiers as Gen. MacArthur phrased it… we “just… fade away.”
For most younger Americans, especially those with no ties to the military, Vietnam is no more relevant than the wars of 1865, 1917, 1941, 1950… perhaps less so.
If that is true… and I must insist on the point… then we will all be forgotten one day, proven to have existed only by the memorials to our fallen that we paid to be erected; the irony of course is that only the dead like MSgt. Ovnand and Maj. Buis have a granite, marble or bronze chance of being remembered at all.
Much worse is the sad fact is that far more Americans know and care about a deceased Michael Jackson than they do about any/all of our service-members around the world; and far more Americans knew and cared more about a live Jackson far, far more than they did about any or all of our dead soldiers.
It has been that way my entire adult life; before that…. the average grade school kid could name various WWII US aircraft on sight, as well as many of the Allies’. Today, the average grown man cannot tell the difference between a senior Navy chief and a Green Beret, but his children are quite aware of contestants on American Idol… I use both terms in this context loosely… very loosely.
Remember: 68 million Americans voted for Barack Obama…. the candidate who stood amid the masses of Germans and exclaimed that he was an American… yes, but more so a “citizen of the world.”
The Fifth Columnist-in-Chief has spent the last two years blaming, criticizing, even apologizing for me and my comrades, living and dead, for all the problems we at the tip of the spear have have caused.
We honor him and ask your prayers for Army 1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw, of Steilacoom, Wash., KIA in Afghanistan, and his family.
Lt. Bradshaw served with the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.
A Soldier Comes Home
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
On July 5, The Post published a letter from Martha Gillis of Springfield, whose nephew, Lt. Brian Bradshaw, was killed in Afghanistan on June 25, the day that Michael Jackson died. The letter criticized the extensive media coverage of Jackson's death compared with the brief coverage of Lt. Bradshaw's death. Among the responses was the following letter, written July 9 by an Air National Guard pilot and a fellow member of the crew that flew Lt. Bradshaw's body from a forward base in Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base. Capt. James Adair, one of the plane's pilots, asked the editorial page staff to forward the letter to the Bradshaw family. He and Brian Bradshaw's parents then agreed to publication of these excerpts. (Read entire story: The Washington Post)
(U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik)