Shaped by war
Dennis Duesman served in the Marines in the Vietnam War and today wears a Marine Corps cap that was made in a communist country.
Duesman, who lives in Pilot Point and is a 1964 graduate of local schools, laughs about the cap when talking about his experiences in the war before Veterans Day.
“It was boring as heck and then scary as hell, and I wouldn’t do it again – I wouldn’t want to do it again – but I wouldn’t take anything for the experiences I had,” he said about Vietnam.
Veterans today enjoy better treatment by the public than when he served 50 years ago, he said.
“When we came back, there were no ‘welcome homes’ or anything,” he said. “In fact, we just didn’t talk about it. We kept everything inside. We didn’t talk to anybody about it. … We basically didn’t speak of it at all; there was nothing to
be proud of, I guess.
‘We feel so much better about it now’
“We had protesters that were protesting us when we came back, hollering baby-killers and stuff like that. You didn’t want to be around in uniform. You wanted to get that thing off and stash it away.” But after the Gulf War and other conflicts in the last few decades, people became more patriotic and supportive of the military. “We feel so much better about it now,” he said.
And when all is said and done about the Vietnam War, “the South Vietnamese are better off now than they’ve ever been,” he said.
He joined the Marine Corps in 1966 through a two-year program on a buddy system with two other guys from Pilot Point – Dwight Kirby and Henry Snow. They went through boot camp together in San Diego and then went to Vietnam. Duesman was a field radio operator in Vietnam for a little more than a year, leaving the country in November 1967. He served in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
After being in Vietnam about two months, he served 10 months in the combined action program. “We worked with the Vietnamese Popular Forces to help protect their village and the surrounding area,” Duesman said, explaining that was near Tamky.
“Where I was, we started off with 57 men manning two hills,” he said. “The Marines actually more or less pulled out. They took our mortar crew and some other people from us. Then the Army took over that area, and they came in and decided to put a tank on our hill. There were a couple of tanks and they gave us a mortar crew, so we were half-Army, half- Marines by the time I left.”
Duesman, 71, has several pictures from his time in Vietnam, including the place where he lived, called a hooch, and times when he was out on patrol. One picture,, taken from a distance, shows smoke from an airplane that crashed. He recalls his time in Vietnam as one in which monotony would be broken up by terror.
“The next thing you know, you’re liable to get hit, and your adrenaline is flying, and it was that way on some of our patrols also,” he said. “But most of the time it was kind of boring.”
Duesman never got hit or injured. “When I was on this hill here, there were two radio operators,” he said, showing a picture of his location. “We manned these radios 24 hours a day, so we worked eight-hour shifts. So we would work eight hours on, eight hours off. So you work 16 hours one day, eight hours the next. We rotated like that.”
They had to use candles; no electricity existed. No running water was available, and neither was a covered outhouse. Duesman and others had to use a makeshift latrine that was out in the open.
“At first, we were drinking water out of the river,” he said. “But then they started bring us water from Tamky. The only food we had were C-rations. … We had to bathe in the river.”
When he got back from Vietnam, he was placed into a recon program. “I went through more training after I got back then before I went, which is crazy as hell,” he said. He went through cold weather training and then was sent to Coronado Islands with the Navy SEALs for amphibious reconnaissance school, which lasted a month.
After his time in the service, Duesman joined the Dallas Police Department and retired from there after nearly 32 years, in 2002. He worked as a patrolman, field training officer, physical evidence employee and detective in property crimes.
He stays busy now with different duties at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and is the sales director for the St. Thomas cemetery. “I do a lot of work out there leveling graves and stuff like that,” he said.
He also belongs to the Vaughn- Walling American Legion Post 550 in Pilot Point. On Veterans Day, he will be at the flag-raising ceremony on The Square in Pilot Point and then will attend a military ball at the Legion in the evening