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 new 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.
“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 flashes 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.
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.
Clark has two sons and a daughter. Zachary lives in Port Charlotte, Benjamin in Sacramento, Calif. and Hillary Clark in San Francisco, Calif.
Name: Dennis Wesley Clark
Age: 63 (at time of interview)
Hometown: San Francisco, California
Current: Punta Gorda, FL
Entered Service: 1969
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: Zachary, Benjamin and Hillary
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 14, 2010 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Clark’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
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