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January 20, 2002

One of a long line of heroes

Daniel Bruce and N.Y. rescue workers put the lives of others before their own
Through the Years
By ANDREW J. DEKEVER

The name of Daniel Bruce is one of more than 59,000 listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial lists the names of all United States military personnel killed in action during the Vietnam War between 1959 and 1975.

Photo provided

 

This is the second of a two-part story on local veteran and American hero Daniel Bruce.

Vietnam

In the split second that he could see the charge flying towards him, Bruce realized that he could run away from the explosive in order to save his own life. However, doing that would leave the Marines in surrounding positions vulnerable to the deadly effects of the explosive.

Running away from danger, though, was not part of the glorious history of the United States Marine Corps.

Knowing the danger to his own life, Bruce caught the explosive and shouted a warning to the Marines around him. Holding the device close to his body, he ran as fast as he could, trying to get it as far away as possible from his nearby comrades.

Seconds later, the device detonated. Bruce absorbed the full force of the blast with his body, thus protecting three nearby Marines from its lethal effects.

However, Dan Bruce was killed instantly. He was 18 years old.

The following day, Bruce's wife, Carol, gave birth to a baby daughter, whom she named Stacy. As she celebrated the first day of her daughter's life, she did not know yet that her baby's father had been killed the day before.

On March 7, 1969, Major David Kindt of the South Bend Marine Reserve Center traveled to Carol Bruce's home in Michigan City and notified her that her husband had been killed in action.

Pfc. Daniel D. Bruce was laid to rest in Michigan City's Greenwood Cemetery on March 18, 1969.

In the years that followed, Carol Bruce mourned and then moved on with her life, eventually remarrying.

The members of Bruce's unit did not forget that they owed their lives to his making the ultimate sacrifice to save them. Recognizing that his actions were "above and beyond the call of duty," Bruce's Marine buddies recommended him for the Medal of Honor.

Thus, on February 16, 1971, President Nixon presented Dan Bruce's Medal of Honor to his parents in a private ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

Epilogue

On September 11, 2001, New York City firefighters and police officers responded to the attacks on the World Trace Center. While thousands of people rushed out of the burning buildings, these police officers and firefighters rushed in, risking their lives in order to save the lives of total strangers.

When the towers collapsed, these firefighters and police officers died by the hundreds. America has justifiably honored their sacrifices ever since.

We don't have to go to New York City, though, to hear stories of courage in the face of death -- such heroic examples can be found locally in the American Legion halls, fire stations and police departments of Michiana.

They also can be found in our local cemeteries, in the stories of heroes such as Dan Bruce.

When Dan Bruce saw death flying at him on the morning of March 1, 1969, he knew he had everything in the world to live for -- a wife who loved him; a baby that would be born any day now; and a long, fresh life ahead of him that was just beginning.

Yet, in a fraction of a second, Bruce chose to run towards the explosive rather than run away from it. He knew that his actions would make his wife a widow and leave his daughter fatherless, yet he chose to sacrifice his life in the jungles of Vietnam.

Why? Because he loved the lives of his fellow Marines around him more than his own life, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice his life to save theirs.

He had known these Marines for only six weeks, yet he gave his life for them, in much the same way that New York City rescue workers gave their lives for complete strangers on Sept. 11.

The lesson to be learned from Dan Bruce and the Sept. 11 attacks is that people of a great society must be willing to sacrifice for one another, even to the extent of laying down one's life to help a stranger.

Although few lines of work possess the danger inherent in military service, firefighting and law enforcement, each of us can serve others no matter what our line of work is -- volunteering for the South Bend Center for the Homeless, contributing to worthwhile charities and so forth.

The outpouring of support for the victims of Sept. 11, the nationwide increase seen in volunteer work since the attacks, and the courage of our Armed Forces on the front lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world all bear testament to the greatness of American society.

To Dan Bruce, our nation's veterans -- past and present -- and to all those who serve others, thank you.

Andrew J. DeKever is a 1991 graduate of Mishawaka High School and a 1995 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He is a U.S. Army captain currently serving as a company commander at Fort Drum, N.Y.

This site is dedicated to the more than 58,000 Soldiers who fought and died serving their Country in Vietnam.
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