Moments after Companies B and C of the First Battalion, 503d Infantry, had run into the enemy buzz saw that killed Clair
Thurston, Company A, which was the battalion reserve was called into the fray. Second Lieutenant David Ugland, one of Company
A’s platoon leaders, had just heard about his good friend Clair’s death and was in somewhat of a dazed state as he directed
his platoon into the heavy combat. Besides wanting the kick the enemy’s tail, he desperately wanted to avenge Clair’s death.
After all, Clair and David had known each other well ever since they were together as teenagers in “Beast Barracks.” David’s
men loved him and his platoon was well prepared to meet the challenge. But it was to be another unfortunate happening as
Lieutenant David Ugland, whose platoon was in the center of the battle, met a soldier’s death, as described by the citation
accompanying the Bronze Star with “V” (Valor) presented posthumously to his family:
While leading his platoon through heavy concentration s of Viet Cong machine-gun fire he pinpointed a hidden machine gun.
After warning his platoon, he exposed himself to the hostile fire without regard for his personal safety, engaging the enemy
single-handedly. Only seconds later the Viet Cong machine-gun crew recovered from the initial attack of Lieutenant Ugland
and a burst of fire killed him instantly. Through his courageous actions the lead squad of the platoon had been given time
to maneuver and destroy the enemy position. ….
Fellow A Company platoon leader, Al Conetto, remembers that sad event all too well: “When I reached the company area I was
told that Dave had been killed. One of his NCO’s carried his body back and laid it under a poncho near the company CP. I
slowly walked over, kneeled, and raised the poncho. To this day I do not recall what he looked like. I could see him alive;
tall, blond, quiet, easy going. I could not see him dead. But he was the first American soldier I saw killed in action.”
David was also awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and two Vietnamese medals, the Gallantry Cross with
Palm and the National Order, Fifth Class. He was the second of twenty-three members of the Class of 1964 to die in Vietnam.
Over 500 of the class would participate in the conflict.
David was born in Chicago on 22 April 1942. His family also lived in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio, before settling in Minneapolis,
Minnesota, soon after David’s tenth birthday. Throughout his early years he excelled in the classroom and in athletics. In
high school he was a member of the National Honor Society, lettered in wrestling, and was chosen for the leadership position
as All-School H-Y Chaplain. For several years David was a winner of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune World Affairs contest
and during his senior year he won the first prize – a trip to Washington, D.C.
David first expressed a desire to attend West Point during the ninth grade when he was interviewed in connection with an award
as a Minneapolis “Teen Trooper.” With his sights set, he achieved outstanding results in high school and on the college boards
which earned him an appointment to the Class of 1964 from Congressman Walter Judd.
As it was for most of the new cadets, “Beast Barracks” was a rude awakening for David, a daily struggle. The only ones who
were semi-prepared for such physical and mental trauma were those with prior military service and those from military prep
schools and military families. They had the advantage of already knowing how to “spit shine” shoes, march, disassemble and
clean a rifle, and countless other things a soldier must know. David even wrote home on one occasion saying that “another
week of gigs like the last one” would result in a trip home.
Two of the principal people responsible for transforming David and his mates in to capable cadets were his squad leaders during
“Beast Barracks,” Cadet Corporals Clancy Matsuda (first month) and Roger Havercroft (second month) of the Class of 1962. Both
proved to be rigid taskmasters who instilled in their men the necessary discipline and toughness to survive the system. They
had different styles, however, with Clancy being the friendly, open type, while Roger was more distant. Unbeknownst to the
eight suffering fledglings of the squad, the seemingly more distant leader had been quite impressed with their diligence and
progress. Little did he know, that within only a few years, three of his young charges would become casualties of the Vietnam
War. Clair Thurston and Dee Stone were the other ill-fated members of that squad. Another classmate in that squad, Larry B
rewer, recounts the following story: “Several years after returning from Vietnam, while stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky,
I ran across one of our “Beast Barracks” squad leaders, Roger Havercroft. I was surprised how happy he seemed to see me as we
began chatting about the past few years. Before long, his eyes became misty as he removed from his wallet a photo of our
squad from the summer of 1960 and began commenting on the tragedy of losing three of them in combat. I have not seen Roger
lately but I’ll bet he still has that picture in his wallet.”
David settled into life within the gray walls and proved himself equal to the challenge. Although he accumulated his fair
share of demerits, he did exceptionally well in academics and won the American Legion award for standing first in the class
in chemistry, one of the more difficult courses of the curriculum. He was also known for his great sense of humor and his
heart of gold, someone who often provided academic assistance to his less-gifted classmates.
After the challenging first two years of adjustment at West Point, David and his classmates were eagerly looking forward to
the “Cow Trip” in June 1962. In the meantime, though, still another “new deal” was being concocted for this class. Until
that year cadets enjoyed the tradition of beginning their third summer with a trip to various military bases around the
country, sort of a gentleman’s tour that was considered a carrot at the end of a rather unpleasant two-year stick. But sure
enough, instead of taking the “Cow Trip” that June, the class remained on the academy grounds for a three-week course in
military instruction techniques, a period which the class dubbed “New Cow Barracks” or “June Entrenchment.”
But David was able to overcome that experiment as well as the other one that summer as he went from Company M-1 to Company K-1.
He continued to shine in the classroom and his fine record would have qualified him for graduate training in engineering, but
his goal was to work with and lead troops, so he chose infantry, the “Queen of Battle.” After successfully completing the
Airborne and Ranger courses, he headed for Okinawa, where he signed into the 173d Airborne Brigade in December 1964.
It was like “old home week” on the Japanese island as David was joined in the 173d by classmates Clair Thurston, Bob Gregson,
Tony Hartle, Jack Grubbs, Bob Walters, Larry Bryan, and Jim Koster. They had requested the assignment for a variety of
reasons. One was to be part of one of the army’s newest units, created in 1963 to be the elite, troubleshooting reserve in
the Pacific Theatre. The 173d was some 5,000 strong at any one time and was to be the only separate airborne brigade the U.S.
Army ever had. Another reason was the opportunity to jump out of airplanes and get paid for it. Airborne pay for officers
was (and still is) $110 per month. That was almost half a second lieutenant’s $220.30 monthly base pay at the time. Throwing
in quarters and subsistence allowance, being on airborne status meant drawing $500 a month instead of $400. And that was
Soon after David arrived in Okinawa, he wrote home about the brigade’s intensified training in anticipation of going to
Vietnam where things were beginning to heat up. And, it wasn’t long before the “Sky Soldiers” were in Vietnam as the
build-up of U.S. Forces got underway.
Shortly after David’s arrival in Vietnam, he was stricken with one of the new strains of malaria which continued to baffle
our doctors. In spite of a 104 degree fever and a loss of weight – to less than 140 pounds – six-foot-three David refused
hospitalization several times. Finally, over his protests, he was evacuated to Japan in August where he regained his
strength and returned to Bien Hoa in October. The return orders were difficult to obtain because he had been declared
medically unfit for jungle duty, but David’s determination and unit loyalty prevailed and he happily returned to his platoon
in A Company of the 1/503d. Later he expressed disappointment because he had missed a skirmish just a short time before his
return. He also wondered why everyone back hyome seemed to feel sorry for him because he was in Vietnam: “I get a kick out
of these people who think I am being a martyr or something. …I am glad I’m here,” he wrote to his parents. His last letters
told of his preparations for the search and destroy mission which was to cost him his life.
When David rejoined his unit, it was in the process of conducting sweeps in the “Iron Triangle” region, thirty kilometers
northwest of Saigon, until then considered inviolate enemy territory, where for more than twenty years they had been
constructing a maze of tunnels, training camps, supply dumps, hospitals, schools, and rest areas. Without the clearing
operations, the enemy forces in that area would pose a continuous threat to all friendly units in the vicinity of Saigon.
The brigade destroyed all that it could during the October sweeps, but the enemy avoided heavy contact and the 173d and
other U.S. units would have to return to the “Iron Triangle” again and again. When the “Sky Soldiers” returned in November
on Operation Hump, the enemy, enjoying superior numbers, chose to stand and fight. Casualties were high, but none were more
devastating to the men of the Class of ’64 than the loss of their two brave young patriots, Clair and David. Their bravery
contributed significantly to the 173d’s victory and its being awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for extraordinary
heroism on 8 November 1965.
David’s close friends well remember the many good times at the home in Minneapolis. The Ugland house suddenly became a
social center whenever David came home and the discussions usually ran far into the night, covering such a wide range of
topics as politics, foreign affairs, college, the army, our futures, sports, and of course, girls. Some friends even
made plans to encourage David to enter politics after his army career, but he was much more interested in a teaching career,
either at the academy or at some other college.
But all of these plans came to an abrupt end on that November day in a far-off jungle.
Those of us who knew David will always remember his high ideals and the many successes he achieved in just twenty-three
years. His life was taken at its very peak, but the sadness of his loss is eased somewhat by the wonderful memories of
the man. His parents, his older sister, his two younger brothers, and his countless friends and classmates miss him, but
they also find inspiration in his memory. To them he remains much revered and never to be forgotten.
David’s philosophy is expressed in the following words of the Cadet Prayer: “Encourage us in our endeavor to live above
the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. …”
David Ugland was far above the “common level” and always chose the path of right, no matter how difficult it might be.
Now that he is gone, those of us who remain behind salute him and only hope that we can live up to the example he provided.
~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray
Karl Wilson and Roger and Jane Baldwin visited the gravesite of Dave Ugland on August 5, 1999. Dave is buried in a family plot
in a beautiful cemetery adjacent to the Holden Church near Kenyon, Minnesota. Participating in the visit were Steve Ugland
(brother), Richard Ugland (brother), Arnold Maring (uncle) and Philip Maring (cousin). Dave’s grave is adjacent to the
gravesites of his mother and father. It is marked by a memorial plaque which included listing his unit – the 173rd Airborne
August 5 was a beautiful summer day. We explained the purpose of the visit as it relates to our 35th year Class Reunion.
During the visit, Roger read the paragraph written about Dave that appears in the Howitzer. Karl then read the Cadet Prayer.
Those moments during both readings were solemn moments. We planted a flower arrangement at the base of his parents’ vertical
grave markers so it would be between Dave and his parents. We reminisced about the Vietnam War. Rich was a high school senior
at the time of Dave’s death. Steve was ten years old. Arnold is now almost 90 years old, in good health and remembers well
the visit Karl Wilson made some years ago a few weeks preceding an earlier class reunion. Dave’s mother was living at that
time and was present for that visit.
Dave’s relatives had just completed a family golf outing in conjunction with a mini-reunion. The timing of our visit could
not have been better. Phil and Arnold live in the vicinity of Kenyon. Phil is a farmer and operates an associated business.
Arnold is retired. Steve lives in the Twin Cities and is a corporate attorney. Rich lives in Dublin, Ohio and is a history
professor at The Ohio State University. Rich noted that the history class on the Vietnam War given at Ohio State is always a
full class. Jane Baldwin was the volunteer photographer and took pictures of the group at Dave’s gravesite with all three
cameras brought by the guys. As we departed, we agreed to assemble and do it again just before our 40th.