When I was 15, I was busy going through the math homework that I never could understand in high school. I’d be out with friends on a Friday night, playing video games at home, or maybe even hanging out at the local arcade (Yes, arcades were very common back then for our younger readers out there). If I weren’t out, my dad would drag me outside the house to help him fix up our car, way back when they weren’t so electronically complex. Yup, those were the days!

You probably had a similar childhood. Hanging out with friends, playing sports, and exploring all those different hobbies as a teenager naturally does. But for Dan Bullock, he was out in the jungles of Vietnam fighting for his country… at 15 years old.

What is a 15-year old doing across the world in some gunfight, risking his life, and not getting a normal childhood as every other teenager does? Here’s the courageous story of Dan Bullock, the youngest US serviceman to die in the Vietnam War.

Dan, The Brave Child Soldier

Dan Bullock during boot camp (www.blackpast.org). Source: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/dan-bullock-1953-1969/
Dan Bullock during boot camp (Photo by Franklin McArthur, Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps via www.blackpast.org)

Yes, we know, children have no place in the war zone, let alone fighting against communists in Vietnam. One of the reasons this country even goes to war is the hope that our children might grow up safe and knowing nothing of war, but here we are, talking about Dan, who was literally 14 years old when he enlisted in the Marines.

The North Carolina native had a tough childhood. At just 12 years old, he moved from Goldsboro to Brooklyn, New York, following his mother’s death. The 60s were tough on their family. Not a lot of opportunities came his way, so he was always on the lookout to build himself and his family up from the ground. He wanted a future that could sustain him, a bright one without all the suffering.

Always wanting to become a US Marine or a police officer, Bullock one day stumbled upon a recruiting station when he was 14 years old. Seeing this as his chance for a better life while fulfilling his childhood dream, he walked right on in. But of course, he was still a minor, a teenager, basically a child—he couldn’t possibly qualify just on the grounds of his age. But since he had a big physique for a 14-year-old, he decided to falsify his birth certificate to read December 21, 1949, when his actual birthday was December 21, 1953. Pretending to be 18 years old, he enlisted with the US Marine Corps on December 10, 1968, without permission from his family. They only knew of his plans once he returned with the application papers.

The 5-foot-9, 160 pound Bullock, now having completed his boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, was immediately deployed to the war zone in Vietnam in 1969, being stationed at An Hoa Combat Base in Quang Nam Province. He was trained as a rifleman, and joined Fox Company, 5th Marine Regiment. Private First Class Bullock by all accounts was a good Marine while his unit operated out of the An Hoa Combat Base in the Quang Nam Province.

An Hoa Combat Base, 1968 (Wikipedia). Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Hoa_Combat_Base#/media/File:An_Hoa_Base,_1968,_5th_Marine_Regiment.jpg
An Hoa Combat Base, 1968 (USMC Archives from Quantico, USACC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

Dan found himself posted to guard duty one night on June 7, 1969. He was originally assigned cleaning duties that night, but he was detailed to take a watch for the Marine supposed to be guarding the Delta Airship who was injured.  No matter how much you train and prepare for the eventuality of combat, some part of surviving always comes down to blind luck.  Dan had only been ‘in country’ a month and his luck had run out.

Bullock and three fellow Marines were in a bunker on watch which suggests they were probably manning a machine gun when a Viet Cong Sapper crept close enough in the darkness to lob a satchel charge into the slit window of the bunker which signaled a general attack on the firebase by the VC.

Bullock died instantly, receiving a hail of bullets from the enemies along with those in the bunker with him.  The attack was repelled with heavy casualties to the Viet Cong, but five Marines in total lost their lives that night defending their base

Bad luck.

He was transported back home and buried without a gravestone marker at Elmwood Cemetery in Goldsboro. It would stay like that for 31 years till talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael caught wind of his story and bought him a proper headstone. In 2003, an avenue in Brooklyn where he and his family lived was renamed after him. A historical marker would later be erected in his hometown in 2017, commemorating his courage and will to serve the country at such a young age.

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