Friday, July 10, 2015

The First Names on the Vietnam Wall

It's actually 56 years ago, but I couldn't find a better graphic.

"Fifty-six years ago...the Viet Cong killed two American soldiers and wounded a third in an ambush at a South Vietnamese army camp in the small town of Bien Hoa about 20 miles northeast of Saigon.
The Viet Cong had been regularly assassinating South Vietnamese officials, but except for a single 1957 incident they had refrained from attacking Americans. The Bien Hoa assault signaled that they were refraining no longer.

Killed that day were Maj. Dale Richard Buis and Master Sgt. Chester M. Ovnand. Two South Vietnamese soldiers were also killed in the raid, along with an 8-year-old boy from the village, and one of the attackers.
Both of the slain Americans were career military men. Born in Pender, Nebraska, in 1921, Maj. Buis had served in World War II and Korea. He’d been at Bien Hoa only two days, and the night he was killed, he was showing his new comrades pictures of his three young sons, who were back home with his wife in Imperial Beach, California. Sgt. Ovnand, 45, had just written a letter to his wife back on Copperas Cove, Texas.
They were among a contingent of eight Americans “advisers” at Bien Hoa: the official name of their unit was U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group. It was R&R time, and two officers were off playing tennis. Six others remained in the mess hall to watch a murder mystery called “The Tattered Dress.”
It was a two-reel picture, and after the first reel, Sgt. Ovnand turned on the lights and went back to the projector. That’s when all hell broke loose.
* * *
Stanley Karnow, a reporter covering Asia for Time-Life publications, was in Saigon on July 8, 1959, when he heard about the attack on Americans in Bien Hoa. A World War II veteran who would later win a Pulitzer Prize for his comprehensive books about the region, Karnow commandeered a cab to the scene of the ambush. What he discovered after interviewing the survivors would be communicated back to the United States in a dispatch published the following week.
Karnow used the word “terrorists” to describe the attackers, as did the U.S. Army; certainly, the attack was terrifying: Six unarmed Americans stationed abroad take a break from their duties to watch a movie only to be attacked out of the darkness.
Karnow’s report ended this way:
“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, and two Vietnamese guards were killed. Trapped in a crossfire, all six might have died had not Major Jack Hellet of Baton Rouge leaped across the room to turn out the lights -- and had not one of the terrorists who tried to throw a homemade bomb into the room miscalculated and blown himself up instead. Within minutes Vietnamese troops arrived, but the rest of the assassins had already fled.”"

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