Veteran Baseball Cap
I recently met David at a City Council public hearing. He was wearing a USMC Vietnam Veterans baseball cap and we immediately struck up a conversation, which led to us meeting for coffee. What a delightful man he is and such a great memory as well.
U.S. Marine Corps
David G. Lusian was born May 29, 1947, in San Francisco, but he grew up in Seattle, graduating from Rainier Beach High School on June 18, 1965, though he barely made it. While in his senior year, Dave was inadvertently kicked off his choir class, which shorted him one unit from qualifying. However, because Dave had joined the U.S. Marine Corps after high school, his principal granted him one credit and his high school diploma. Dave was already living on the edge even before arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego on Aug. 12, 1965, for eight weeks of Boot Camp training. Normally it’s a 12-week course but the Marines were scurrying recruits through due to the Vietnam War. Afterward, Dave took four weeks of infantry training at Camp Pendleton and then he received a 30-day leave of absence to return home to his family.
Gateway to the Pacific
In February 1966, Dave traveled to Travis Air Force Base, known as the “Gateway to the Pacific,” located near San Francisco. But in the ‘60s, it was also known as the gateway to Vietnam as an untold number of young American males went to war from Travis, many of whom never returned home alive. Next, Dave flew to Okinawa but en route he contracted pneumonia, causing him to lie in the aisle during his flight. Upon arrival Dave was promptly hospitalized for two weeks of recovery and then he flew to Danang, South Vietnam, where he joined the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division as a replacement grunt. After a few days of orientation, Dave and two replacements were sent to Anderson Trails Base Camp 17 miles south of Danang.
Voiced Strong Disapproval
When Dave and his two buddies arrived at Anderson Trails, their new squad leader, a boorish young corporal, bellowed, “Where are my other choices?” Right away, Dave knew this guy would be trouble and sure enough months later that squad leader murdered a captured Viet Cong suspect by pumping a 20-round M-14 magazine into him. Dave’s fellow squad members kept silent out of fear but Dave voiced his strong disapproval, knowing full well that his life could be in jeopardy. Dave made it through until August 1966 when he was assigned to Camp Carroll, located near the infamous Rockpile, until November 1966. Throughout this tour of duty, Dave participated in platoon-size foot patrols and often squad patrols seeking and engaging communist guerilla fighters who were expert at concealment and surprise brief firefights. All types of booby traps and landmines were a constant threat when not in direct contact with the Viet Cong.
American Icon Martha Raye
Two days after the USMC’s Birthday on Nov. 12, 1966, Dave’s platoon was securing a bridge for a sister platoon to safely cross. As they maneuvered behind a tank for protection it suddenly lurched into high gear toward enemy positions, leaving Dave and his Marines utterly exposed. Dave instantly dove into a trench, not realizing that the enemy had placed punji sticks laced with human excrement in that ditch. Thus, his right hand was split wide open. Soon afterwards, Dave was medevaced to nearby Dong Ha’s Navy Hospital and coincidentally American icon comedienne Martha Raye was visiting wounded troops there when Dave arrived. Dave will never forget that while a doctor operated on his hand, Martha firmly held his left hand throughout the entire procedure. Afterward, Martha, a full bird Army Colonel, known as Nurse Maggie, gave Dave a pack of Salem cigarettes.
Street without Joy
After spending one week in Dong Ha’s Naval Hospital, Dave returned to his unit and continued more harrowing patrols. Desperate to receive a 30-day leave of absence to visit his family for Christmas 1966, Dave extended his tour of duty for six months. After a glorious time at home, it was back to Phu Bai with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division. Those next six months proved to be the most dangerous of Dave’s combat service in South Vietnam as his platoon suffered 35 percent killed and wounded in action, including the renowned journalist and author, Bernard Fall. “Street without Joy,” a 1961 book that chronicled France’s tragic involvement in Vietnam, was written by Bernard Fall. On Feb. 21, 1967, Dave’s unit participated in Operation Chinook and Bernard Fall voluntarily joined them to record their mission. Bernard had previously reported numerous war tragedies in Vietnam but sadly on that day, he stepped on a deadly landmine near Hue City. Ironically, Bernard Fall was killed on the exact street (Highway 1) that he had written about in 1961.
Heavy Price for Small Victories
Finally, in September 1967 Dave’s combat tour of duty ended but not before his unit endured numerous firefights with Viet Cong and NVA forces. After Operation Chinook, Dave and his Marines were trucked to the DMZ as a blocking force near Cam Lo, which was under threat of annihilation. Dave and his boys were ambushed at least seven times, but his combat days weren’t over. Afterward Dave returned to Dong Ha for more patrols in a place nicknamed Helicopter Valley where numerous Hueys were shot down and, though the Marines eliminated enemy fighters hand over fist, they took too many casualties. Dave said, “The price we paid for small victories was just too high.”
Sgt. David G. Lusian was honorably discharged April 30, 1969, and returned to his Seattle home where he resumed his education and civilian employment. Dave’s military awards include the Presidential Unit Citation, Purple Heart and National Defense Medal, among others. Once home, Dave held numerous job functions but it was retail flooring that led him to Canyon Country in 1992 before settling in Stevenson Ranch in 2002. The best thing that ever happened to Dave was bumping into Nadia Bukowski at a Beverly Hills Café on La Cienega Boulevard in 1981. Dave was there with his high school buddy Eugene Butler, who actually first spoke to Nadia by asking her to a softball game. However, when Eugene couldn’t make it, Dave escorted her. Dave soon asked Nadia to dinner, though he stupidly had no money and when Nadia realized it, she said, “Wow, what a loser!”
We Might as Well
Nevertheless, Dave and Nadia continued seeing each other and ultimately lived together for seven years until one day, Nadia said, “Hey! Are you ever going to marry me?”
Dave replied, “We might as well, I’m not going anywhere.” On Sept. 26, 1992, Dave and Nadia were married at Eugene Butler’s affluent West Hills home and they have enjoyed their blissful love affair for 26 years now.
Thank you for your honorable service to our country, Dave, and may God bless you both.