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David Holland, front row, right, stands with the complete Fire Direction Control section in Okinawa before shipping out to Vietnam. (Submitted photo).
David Holland, front row, right, stands with the complete Fire Direction Control section in Okinawa before shipping out to Vietnam. (Submitted photo).

By Leah Weissman

Pilot staff writer

"Memorial Day makes me think back to the guys who aren't here, and how I wish they were," Brookings resident and Vietnam veteran David Holland said.

Sitting next to his wife Margaret in their home at Riverside RV Park, David, 72, grew silent as the memories of his three tours in Vietnam, from 1964 to1970, came flooding back.

The memories were mixed with sadness, anger and humor.

"I remember one time I was driving behind a truck when it hit a land mine," David said. "I saw a guy fly through the air and land in the brush. We all thought he was dead, but next thing we knew, we saw him walk out of the bushes all right."

David served in the United States Marine Corps during all three tours. After his first tour from 1964 to 1965, he returned to Vietnam in 1966 as the gunnery sergeant for the Fire Direction Control (FDC) center – which was responsible for calculating elevation, direction and aim for heavy artillery.

Referred to as "The Gunny," David was part of Kilo Battery, 4th Battalion, 13th Regiment in the 6th Marine Corps division. He had 12 men between the ages of 18 to 20 under his command, and made it his goal to get them home to their families.

"When I got them, they didn't know anything about their job," he said. "They were just out of boot camp. I trained them, and told them if they did their job right and listened to reason, I'd get them home alive."

David said he learned a few tricks from his first tour of how to keep himself and his troops – whom he referred to as his "kids" – alive.

Before returning to Vietnam, he ordered several big wooden beams to bring with him to construct a sturdy roof for his troops' underground bunker.

"I'd been in the country before, and knew material like this was hard to come by," he said. "I had to make sure I could make my own bunker, and layered the beams with sandbags. I made sure we weren't unnecessarily exposed."

Every time David and his troops moved to a different location, they took the wooden beams with them.

"We were constantly afraid for our lives, as much as when we woke up to when we went to sleep," he said while recounting what it was like to have bombs go off just yards away from their camp.

Many of David's memories from Vietnam came back to him after he received a DVD with pictures of his troops, camp and the surrounding destruction from a lieutenant he met during his second tour.

"When we watched it, we were both just emotionally drained," Margaret said. "It made me sick to my stomach. None of this was real to me because I was living in California at the time raising two children. But this DVD made it real."

As the black and white pictures flashed across the television screen, David pointed out the different kinds of artillery he and his troops used, where they slept and ate, and the quirks of the young men waving at the camera.

"I remember one FDC troop was shot in his leg, high in the thigh, the day I was supposed to leave the country," David said. "As he was getting medevacced out of there, he said to me, ‘Hey, looks like I'm getting out of the country before you.'"

Since receiving the DVD, David and his son George, also in the U.S. Marine Corps, have decided to travel to a U.S. Marine Corps.reunion in Quantico, Va., to see the "young" men David watched over during his second tour.

"I haven't seen these men for 40 years," he said. "I'm a little apprehensive. I spent so much time in Vietnam, and all of my tours were in the same place, I'm worried I might mix up some of my memories."

Margaret turned to her husband and said, "Many of those men felt you were a huge mentor and influence to them. I remember when I asked you if you got all those men back safely, and you looked at me and said ‘Yes.'"

During his third tour, David was promoted to first sergeant and was the youngest first sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1969.

"Then I was responsible for 130 people instead of 12," he said.

Although Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died serving their country, David is also honoring the this holiday of remembrance by seeing those he kept alive.

"I've got no regrets going to Vietnam," he said. "I fly my flags every day and show my loyalty to this nation."


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