On May 15, Former Marine Sergeant Dennis Mannion P '99 spoke to students in U.S. and Vietnam and American Studies classes about his Vietnam War experiences.
Upon flunking out of the university of Notre Dame, Mannion enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1967. After boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. and infantry training at Camp Lejeune, N.C., he attended Naval Gunfire School in Coronado, Calif. He departed for Vietnam and was assigned as an artillery forward observer with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines. The recent New York Times retrospective Vietnam '67 marks the 50th anniversary that historians, veterans, and journalists recall as the year that changed the war and changed America.
Mannion's Kilo Company 3/26 was sent to the remote Khe Sanh Combat base in December 1967 in response to a build up of North Vietnamese forces in the area. Kilo Company was tasked with the defense of an isolated hilltop outpost, Hill 861, where Mannion was a Forward Observer (FO), responsible for the artillery support for the base.
His slide presentation showed him as a young man wearing all new gear — except for a pair of worn boots retrieved from the body of a fallen colleague before he was shipped home. He told students about what it's like to wear 100 pounds of gear in 105-degree heat. Among the things he carried throughout the war: around his neck, a towel full of shrapnel holes, and a copy of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Crossing the Bar" in his helmet. The poem compares death with the crossing of a sandbar between the river of life and the ocean of death with the narrator echoing, "I hope to see my Pilot face to face/When I have crost the bar."
In January 1968, during the 77-day Siege of Khe Sanh, Sergeant Mannion conducted over 300 artillery missions that helped thwart the NVA attempt to overrun the base and its 6,000 U.S. Marine defenders. Twice-wounded on that hill, Sergeant Mannion was awarded two Purple Hearts. He and the other defenders of Khe Sanh were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. He was one of the lucky ones, he recalled, 28 of his friends were killed at Khe Sanh.
Mannion, a resident of Cheshire, Conn., is a retired English teacher and football coach, and parent of Jake '99. He is a member of the Scholarship Committee of the Khe Sanh Veterans Inc. Scholarship Foundation. We thank Sergeant Mannion and all veterans for their service this Memorial Day!