Marine veteran receives Vietnam service medals after 50 years

Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. March, 1968: U.S. Marines scramble for cover as another volley of Viet Cong shells lands on the besieged base at Khe Sanh.


By MIKE MASTOVICH | The Tribune-Democrat | Published: September 9, 2018

HORNERSTOWN, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — David “Dee Dee” Osborne initially had little interest in pursuing the medals he had earned during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Osborne didn’t speak much about his time in Southeast Asia. In fact, the less he thought about being among the U.S. forces cut off and isolated while defending the Khe Sanh Combat Base during a brutal 77-day siege, the better for the Hornerstown resident.

“I was 19 years old, a sergeant back then, and I turned 70 on Sept. 4,” Osborne said. “It took 50 years.”

Osborne is well known throughout the region as a former baseball coach who spent 25 years at Greater Johnstown High School and was a manager of the successful Pepsi-Cola teams that played in the All American Amateur Baseball Association Tournament. He currently is a Cleveland Indians scout.

Osborne also is a member of the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Directors.

His father Harold encouraged him to inquire about the medals decades ago, putting into motion a sometimes frustrating process that finally had a successful ending 50 years after his service in Vietnam.

“My dad said, ‘Pursue it. You earned them. Get them,’ ” said Osborne, who joined the Marines as a 17-year-old with his parents ‘ permission. He served in Vietnam from early 1967 through 1968, when he was injured in combat.

Osborne’s father died in 1999, about a decade into a process that involved attempts to locate and verify military records and accounts of men who served with Osborne.

‘Service to our nation’

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, helped complete the effort, as Osborne recently received:

• Presidential Unit Citation ribbon bar with one bronze star.

• Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon bar with one bronze star.

• National Defense Service Medal.

• Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze campaign stars.

• Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Color with palm and frame) ribbon bar.

• Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 Device.

“I am proud to congratulate Sergeant David ‘Dee Dee’ Osborne on finally receiving his medals in recognition for his dedicated service to our nation as a Marine during the Vietnam War,” Rothfus said in a statement. “Helping our district’s veterans and constituents is one the most important duties I have as a member of Congress. It was an honor to assist in the efforts to secure the recognition that Dee Dee deserves, and I thank him for his years of service to Johnstown and our nation.”

Osborne had letters from late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, whose office began the process in November 1988. Correspondence from Murtha in July 2000 documented efforts to reach a chaplain who served with Osborne.

After Murtha’s death in 2010, Congressman Mark Critz briefly took up the cause. State Rep. Bryan Barbin’s office also played a role in collecting documentation.

Finally, Rothfus, with contributions from staffer Brian Subich of Johnstown, put the final pieces in order.

“Helping constituents like Mr. Osborne is one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” said Subich, a field representative on Rothfus’ staff. “I am glad to have been a part of getting Dee Dee the recognition he deserves.”

‘Badly injured’ saving a life

Osborne said he appreciated the efforts by all of those involved since 1988, and especially thanked Rothfus and Subich.

“All the records were destroyed when we got overrun in Khe Sanh,” Osborne said.

“The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) got inside the wire.”

Once the medals arrived, Osborne said he thought of his parents as well as his brother Ray, who also served in Vietnam.

Of course, he also remembered his comrades, many of whom didn’t make it back to the states.

A hand-written letter signed by Phillip J. Wright, USMC, was dated Oct. 18, 1999. The correspondence originally had been submitted as testimony for a Purple Heart, which Osborne has not been awarded. Records in files on Osborne assembled by Murtha and Barbin’s offices indicate that one eyewitness, Wright, provided documentation of the event, but another eyewitness account is necessary to award a Purple Heart.

“Sergeant Osborne was almost killed, but badly injured saving the life of an already wounded Marine,” Wright wrote. “On or about 3-15-68, Sergeant Osborne was placing another wounded Marine on a MedEvac helicopter. As always, the enemy tried shelling the helicopter and got far too close.

“Abruptly, the pilot shot straight up to clear the area. Sergeant Osborne realized the stretcher would fall out if he let go before the crew chief could get hold of the other end of it, so he held it as the helicopter climbed. Once the crew chief had the stretcher secured, Sergeant Osborne had no choice but letting go of it and falling to the ground, landing on his side from a height of two or three stories. He badly injured an arm and a foot and was himself on the next MedEvac to Dong Ha.”

‘Blood stained your uniform’

Osborne said he was fortunate to survive the incident.

“A sniper had his sights on me,” Osborne said.

“There were tracer rounds and everybody was yelling for me to drop the stretcher. I couldn’t do it. The poor kid was yelling, ‘Help me. Help me.’ I saw the tracer rounds going over my head.

“Everybody was on the ground yelling, ‘Ozzy, Ozzy, get down.’ A sniper had three shots on me and missed all three times.”

Osborne became somber when looking at a Stars & Stripes publication photograph of two Marines evacuating two wounded men from a field near Con Thien Combat Base in South Vietnam.

“I was standing right here,” Osborne said, pointing at the photo. “The NVA let us go down that road, down that field. When we came out, they wouldn’t let us out. They ambushed us – 200 casualties.”

The photograph caption confirmed the casualty count, stating the unit returned from the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Marines were “caught on an open road.”

“I saved seven guys that day. I didn’t give a shit anymore,” Osborne said. “I just went out and heard the yelling and screaming, ‘Help, help.’ I just went and grabbed them, put them on my shoulder, ran them up there and they got a stretcher and put them on. Blood stained your uniform ...”

Osborne’s eyes teared up. He glanced away from the newspaper clip and looked at the medals neatly arranged on a table in his kitchen.

“I was just a young kid,” he said. “Fifty years I waited for this. I wish my dad could see this.”

©2018 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)
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Marines carry wounded to helicopter pad on Khe Sanh base to be evacuated. The base was hit by North Vietnamese mortar and artillery, fire killing and wounding several Marines.

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