Today, May 30, 2011, marks forty-two years and ninety-three days since Spec. 5 David Charles Marshall Jackson and thirteen other souls lay dead or dying in Cu Chi, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. They were killed when Vietnamese forces overran their camp to attack and destroy 12 Chinook helicopters based there. Details of the firefight are hard to come by, but one source stated Specialist Jackson was actively engaged in the fight when he was felled.
These fourteen are among the 58,267 memorialized at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each of them has a story that deserves to be told. Only David’s can be told here.
David did not need to die on that dark February night. At least, he did not have to die in Vietnam. He started his military career in Germany and could have stayed there for several years if he wished. However, David was never one to pass up a good fight, and he grew tired of the spit, polish, and boredom of serving in Europe. After a few months, he volunteered for Vietnam and set boots on the ground April 9, 1968.
David came by his desire for change and action honestly. His childhood was, to say the least, a little unstable. While some folks live in the same house for most of their childhood, David did not have that luxury.
David and his family were urban nomads, roaming all over the west side of Tarrant County. His family seemed to think roots were for other folks. They pulled up stakes and moved every year or two. During the fourteen years David was in Texas, he lived in Benbrook, Azle, White Settlement (twice), Lake Worth, and various locations in west Fort Worth.
It was hard to get bored around the Jackson home. If the family was not packing and moving out, they were moving in and unpacking. Between moves, David’s father kept things interesting by changing careers, changing hobbies, and changing dreams like some people changed shirts.
The result, in David’s case, was difficulty staying focused and a need for stimulation. This translated into any number of risky pursuits. David was a horseman, hunter, fighter, and serious lady’s man by the time he was sixteen. If he was afraid of anything, he hid it well, and that lack of fear, and common sense, kept him in trouble most of his teenage years.
The beginning of the end for David was when his parents split in 1964. David went with his father and his future stepmother. They moved to Indiana where David had been born and his father had family. David did not finish high school, but he managed to earn a GED. He enlisted in the Army as soon as he could without parental approval. A few months later he was in Germany, but by April 1968 he was in Vietnam.
Vietnam seemed to be good for David in some ways. He learned that risk-taking and an adrenaline rush are not the only things there are in life. Of course, David had to learn those lessons the hard way. If his letters and messages can be believed, he volunteered for every dangerous assignment that came along, almost paying the ultimate price for his adventure-seeking on more than one occasion. However, his last few messages seemed to show he had grown up a little. They stressed how he was looking forward to settling down and having a career when he got home.
In February 1969 David was rotated to a base camp that was nominally safer than his normal post. Army policy was to rotate short-timers to safe areas in the last month of their tour. The policy came about due to the high casualty rates among troops approaching the end of their tour. Whether they were getting too cocky or too cautious is anybody’s guess, but the powers-that-be started moving short-timers to safer areas when they hit the thirty-day mark.
On the night of February 26, 1969, David was twenty-eight days from returning home. He was safe and secure in his base camp. He was miles from the front lines, such as they were in Vietnam. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese the camp was not a combat area.
David was a wacky brother, a loving son, and a man whose full potential was never realized. May he and his comrades in arms continue to rest in peace.
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