What one Marine’s death meant to the folks back home

Last week I wrote about a terrible Vietnam War training accident involving Marines outside Da Nang. There’s more to tell, and it has to do with the ripples caused by one life lost.

The accident happened March 28, 1967, while a Marine instructor was holding a class for a squad that would be clearing a minefield. He had an M16 mine he thought he had disarmed. It went off, killing 13 Marines. The only survivor in the class was the instructor, a staff sergeant.

I couldn’t imagine the anguish of the families. The accident was widely reported back in the States, topping The Associated Press wrap-up of the day’s war news and landing on Page 1 of newspapers across the country with headlines like “Mishap kills 13 Marines.”

Such loss of life early in 1967, well before Vietnam’s carnage reached its peak the following year, would have magnified the impact of the coverage. The AP and United Press International stories identified the Marines as belonging to the 7th Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, surely filling the families of men in that unit with anxiety as they awaited word.

Using the dead Marines’ names, I searched Newspapers.com and found that one of the men was from a town in eastern Pennsylvania near where I grew up.

He was Lance Cpl. Stanley Davidheiser Jr., 20 years old, a 1965 graduate of Pottsgrove High School. The story April 4 in The Mercury of Pottstown had a banner headline on the front page: “Area Marine is killed by mine.” His family had heard about the accident in news reports and feared he was involved.

On April 3, two Marine officers came to tell his wife that apparently he was.

He had been a star athlete, with letters in football, wrestling and track. He had been in Vietnam less than two months.

The family told the newspaper that the Marine officers promised to return the next day with full details of his death. “From their remarks Monday, they led us to believe he was killed in the accident in the training class,” an aunt said.

What made the tragedy worse for the Davidheisers was that Stan’s wife was expecting their first child. He had been sending her messages on tape, telling her he was excited about becoming a father and looking forward to coming home and seeing the child.

His son was born less than three weeks after he was killed.

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