David Carlton Brown
West Point, 1966
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Walt Brinker on April 22, 2014:
Dave Brown and I were Ranger buddies in class 3-66. We had known each other since taking the USMA entrance exams while in high school, became best of friends after moving to D-1 (which became D-3) after yearling year, and were roommates for a semester during first class year. We both stayed in excellent physical condition, and we knew that we would be assets to each other if times got tough -- especially in Ranger school, and they did. We kept each other going, and did at least our share of helping others in our platoon finish the runs and marches. One especially cold night in the mountains we had stopped and were allowed to rest for a couple of hours. We decided to snap our ponchos together and stay warm by wrapping them around us to help retain our combined body heat. Well, it was so pitch dark, and we were so exhausted, hungry, wet, cold and shivering that we couldn't agree on how to snap the ponchos together, or even line up the snaps. As close friends as we were, we nearly came to blows over whose poncho was reversed and why the other was taking so long -- before finally succeeding and grabbing a few shivering winks. We both got Ranger tabs.
We had volunteered to go to Vietnam as soon as possible, and to be assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade as infantry platoon leaders. We feared nothing 'cause we were the "toughest muthas in the valley" -- just like the cartoon on our room door at West Point had said. In Vietnam we learned about our mortality as we saw others around us KIA. I lasted six months before getting medevaced from Dak To; Dave survived Dak To and extended to get a 173d rifle company. He was killed in that job on 7 September 1968. News of any classmate's death was dreadful, but Dave's hit me hardest.
Dave's funeral was at West Point, and I attended just as I was preparing to return for my second tour. The viewing was at a funeral home in Highland Falls. As I looked through my tears at his still, peaceful form in the casket I noticed that something was fundamentally wrong: his Army Green uniform included his medals - two Bronze Stars with "V", two for service, two Purple Hearts, CIB and jump wings, but there was no Ranger tab or 173d patch. I asked his father whether he minded if I went to the PX or clothing sales store to get the missing insignia so I could pin them to Dave's uniform. His father did not object, so I went on post to find them, but could not because the facilities were closed.
I had traveled to the funeral in my greens since in those days the airlines let us fly at half fare if we were in uniform. The only convenient source of insignia for Dave's uniform was my own Greens. So I cut off my own Ranger tab and 173d patch, with Airborne tab, and gently pinned them to Dave's uniform in the casket. I said to myself, "I'll be damned if I'll let Dave rest in peace without a Ranger tab and 173d patch on his uniform." As my Ranger buddy, Dave had played a definite role in my earning that coveted Ranger tab, so I figured that giving him mine was the least I could do!
Traveling back to Fort Lewis after the funeral was the only time during the rest of my career that I did not wear a Ranger tab while in uniform. I felt a little naked, but I didn't mind.
And every time I visit Dave's grave I get a special feeling, besides the sadness, since an important part of me will be with him always.
As cadets, Dave and I bet each other $10 that the other would be the first to marry. I lost that bet in 1971, and I would give everything I own to be able to pay up.
I promised Dave's parents that I would name my first son after him, and I did. Dave's parents told me that several other friends of theirs also named sons "David" for our classmate and my Ranger buddy.
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