Don Moore's

DMZ was a dangerous place along the border with North Vietnam in 1969

In U. S. Army, Vietnam War on July 28, 2010 at 4:38 am

This was Staff Sgt. Dennis Wesley Clark and his M-16 rifle in 1969 when he served at a Marine base at Dong Ha, along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam. Photo provided

Dennis Wesley Clark volunteered for Vietnam in 1969. He ended up fighting the North Vietnamese Army along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam.

The Punta Gorda resident had already spent two years as a Mormon missionary in South America. Before going to Vietnam he attended Non Commissioned Officers School where he did well and graduated as a Staff Sergeant, an E-6, during his first year of college.

“My first unit in Vietnam, 6 of the 33rd, was a 105 millimeter self-propelled howitzer outfit,” the 63-year-old former Army sergeant explained. “The unit was located at Con Thien, along the DMZ.

“Every day at this base you got shot at or you shot at someone. We were a small artillery unit with six 105 howitzers that supported the 3rd Marine Division at their northern-most base along the DMZ,” he said.

“My first three months at the base were kinda worthless. I had a lot of skills and book training, but no real experience,” Clark said. “After my first unit was dissolved I was reassigned to the 1st of the 40th. This was another 105 howitzer outfit on the same base with split-tail howitzers.”

That’s when Army life for the 22-year-old soldier began to get a little more dicey.

“From my new base you could look north into North Vietnam. You could look east and see out toward the sand dunes. You could look south and you’d see rolling plains. You could look west and see foot hills,” he explained.

“When I arrived at my now unit I was made sergeant of the lead gun because of my rank and experience. Mine was the registration gun for the unit and I was the NCO in charge,” Clark said. “A few days later I was made Chief of Firing Battery (NCO in charge of all six guns). Con Thien was a dangerous place.

“I was relaying the guns and getting them into position one night about chow time. I finished up and was headed for the chow line when an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) landed between the legs of the tripod for the aiming circle I had been using,” he said.

“It tossed me 20 feet in the air. I landed up against the bunker for the medics and the water trailer. Everything around me had holes in it from shrapnel caused by the RPG. The bunker was leaking sand and water from the water trailer was pouring on me.

“At first they thought I was dead. I stood up, brushed myself off and realized I had a horrible headache. I got no medal for this. I just stood up and went back to work,” Clark said.

“A while later the Marine infantry was fighting a big battle with the NVA on the plain to the south of us. The enemy stationed a sniper on a hill to harass the artillery,” he said. “I noticed the smoke and dust kicking up from the rounds he was firing at us. I knew exactly where the sniper was so I helped re-aim the gun.

“I sent him a direct fire air burst. What you did was determine how many seconds before the round reached the target. I used a time charge to burst right in front of him. All six of our 105s fired and neutralized him. What’s fair is fair,” Clark grinned.

“One night we spotted the enemy trying to penetrate our perimeter. Being the senior NCO I coordinated the attack,” he said.

Clark talks about the year he spent fighting with the 3rd Marine Division as the member of an Army artillery battery of 105 Howitzers. Sun photo by Don Moore

“I positioned two M-60 machine-guns on the flanks. I wanted them to make a wall on each side so none of the enemy could sneak out. Then I ordered the two guns on the perimeter to use beehive, 8,000 fleshets per round. The two middle guns were to blanket the enemy with firecracker that produced 18 grenades per round that bounced up chest-high and exploded. One back gun would close the back door with a wall of hot steel with air bursts of high explosives. The final gun was to provide illumination behind the enemy,” Clark said.

“We did about five minutes of continuous fire. Then I backed off and had all six guns lob high explosive rounds in on them. And the two machine-guns raked the area,” he said. “When it was all over, all 90 NVA soldiers were dead. Not one of my guys got a scratch.

“Next day all the generals in their helicopters flew in to see the victory. My colonel offered me an on-the-spot commission, but it would have meant I would have had to spend more time in the Army,” Clark explained. “I wanted to get back to my game plan: Two years for God, two years for country, then go to college and accomplish my personal goals.”

He decided to forgo the commission and was reassigned to a new unit, the 1st of the 44th as a tactical combat advisor. This outfit had an improvised assortment of equipment that proved lethal to the enemy.

They were equipped with twin-40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns mounted on a M-48 tank chassis and used as a ground-to-ground artillery piece. They called the rig a “Duster.” They also mounted quad .50 caliber machine-guns on the back of a deuce-and-a-half Army truck.

When intelligence indicated the VC or NVA were on the verge of attacking a particular outpost, Clark and his troopers were sent to the scene to help units about to face the enemy.

Clark is pictured in the compound at Dong Ha, near the border with North Vietnam. It was a dangerous place to be. Photo provided

After a year and a day in Vietnam he completed his tour of duty and was headed home. When he arrived back in the San Francisco area in September 1970, where he grew up, the reception from the public was anything but friendly to soldiers returning from war.

He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1973 with a BS in Business Administration and Finance. Four years later he received an MBA from the University of Tampa,

In 1980 he went to work for Hughes Aircraft Company as operations control manager, a position he held for 15 years. Then he became East Coast Manager of Western Data Systems in 1995 that produced software for complex manufacturing operations.

Since moving to Punta Gorda he has become a writer. Clark has two novels published. His first book is Hard Way Home and his second, The Grudge are based to some degree on his Vietnam experiences. To find out more see his website:  http://www.dennisclarknovels.com

Clark has two sons and a daughter.  Zachery lives in Port Charlotte, Benjamin in Sacramento, Calif. and Hillary Clark in San Francisco, Calif.


Clark’s File

Name: Dennis Wesley Clark
Age: 63
Hometown: San Francisco, California
Current: Punta Gorda, Florida
Entered Service: 1969
Rank: Sergeant
Unit: 1st of the 40th
Commendations: Bronze Star with “V” for Valor, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Commendation Medal
Children: Zachery, Benjamin and Hillary


This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 14, 2010. It is published to the web with permission.

Click here to view Clark’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

Click here to view the War Tales Facebook fan page.


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  1. just looking around. read your page. brings back 1969. i was at con thien for 13 months. arrived at red devil. was sent to lz sharon for about 2 1/2 weeks, was not too bad there. then an e-6 came and called my name and said pack up, i have a new home for you. droped me off a con thien and said, i have to get back to red devil. less than 20 min. the rockets and mortors started. me an fng did not know what the he!! was going on. i was informed this is your new way of life, good luck hope you make it. needless to say i was shaking pretty bad. i was in a hole in the ground in front of the old concrete bunker at the top of one of the hills. i remember the big red nva flag across the ben hia river. did get a photo of it. god blessed me, i came home.

  2. I was with Co. C 1/77 Armor, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Divisi, Head quartered in Quing Tri. We, not the Marines, occupied Con Tien replaceing the Marines in August of 1968 in the DMZ. Sorry but I cannot agree with most of this story. So, until further documenting Clarks story, just read it with a “grain of salt”

  3. I was also at Con Thien in late 69/early 70 and I don’t recall any Jarheads. I was Army Fifth Division, 1/61 Charlie Company, mechanized. We probably did more walking that riding, or we got dropped off by the tracks and left out for a few days. I should be fair, the guys got dropped off. I was fortunate enough to be a driver so I got a better deal.

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