If you have seen an Honor Flight jacket from Wisconsin then you may have noticed on the back it says, “Every Day is a Bonus.” For Richard Dunn, every day after 25 May 1970 can be summed up with that quote. We met Richard this year while setting up with one of the traveling replica walls in Rensselaer, Indiana this Memorial Day. Richard served as a Specialist Fourth Class (SP-4) with the 1stPlatoon, “D” Company, of the 4/503 Airborne Infantry, 173rdAirborne Brigade in Vietnam. On the 25thof May he earned his Purple Heart.
On that day a small force of Viet Cong attacked his unit. His platoon was moving through an area with high brush when he heard a thump and then a thud as he fell to the ground. He told me as he lay on the ground he knew the thump was an M-79 grenade launcher being fired but thought it was being fired away from him but he was confused about the thud. His hip was starting to hurt; as he looked down to see, it took him some time to realize it was the back a 40mm high explosive grenade and it was imbedded in his hip.
The thud was the M-79 being fired from the other side of a bush by a new member of his unit who heard movement an in a moment of panic shot SP-4 Dunn with the M-79. The up side in the moment was that SP-4 Dunn was too close for the round to travel the distance to arm. The down side was not knowing how close to arming distance the round had traveled and how close to or how much movement would make the grenade in his hip explode killing him and anyone around him.
Richard told Elijah and I how he was left there until all the wounded were medevac’d. Then a Huey helicopter finally came to get him with a single pilot who volunteered and no additional crew. When he arrived in the rear the “bird” landed well away from anything. He was taken off and left to lay at a safe distance form everything. In the distance he watched a crew of men setting up a tent and moving in equipment to tend to his “situation.” Finally, a volunteer medical crew was coming to provide care and one additional member from an explosive ordnance disposal or EOD to operate. This small plus one medical team volunteered to provide care to SP-4 Dunn knowing that the grenade could explode in the procedure to remove it killing everyone in the tent without warning.
As Richard told us his story, he could not understand what the fuss was over. He was too close for the grenade to arm. “They should have just pulled it out on the battlefield and tossed it,” he said. I responded, “Can you imaging if the round was pre-rolled.” Richard did not know what I meant. I explained some guys would pre-roll the 40mm round on a table to shorten the arming distance. Ironically, 48 years later, in that moment he understood all the fuss and how close to death he really was.