David L. Pennington was born in Dodge City, Kansas in 1947. He grew up on a farm about mid-way between there and Meade, Kansas and attended public schools in Meade. After his third year in high school the family moved to Dodge City and he graduated from Dodge City High School with the Class of 1965. He had taken a years training in Auto Mechanics in high school and decided thats what he wanted to do. So, he completed the course with another year in Vocational Training School. However, before he could get started in an auto mechanics career, the war in Vietnam was requiring increasing manpower and David received his draft notice. He reported for the draft and was far along in the process, in fact he had already taken the physical examination before he was told of the option to instead enlist for three years for skill training. He saw that as an opportunity to advance his career qualifications and so he asked for and was accepted for training in heavy equipment maintenance.
He was inducted into the Army in Kansas City, Missouri, entering active duty September 20, 1966. He took Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and was held over briefly after graduation until the start of the Engineer Equipment Repairmans course in January 1967. After completing the course in February, Pvt. Pennington was ordered to Fort Stewart, Georgia where he was assigned to an Engineer Battalion. There, he received his introduction to the Rome Plow, a specialized modification of the D7E bulldozer, named for the city in Georgia where it was first built. The Rome Plow has a C-shaped plow with a razor sharp edge capable of ripping off jungle vegetation, and having a long heavy steel spike fastened to the blades left side that is capable of splitting and bringing down trees up to four feet in diameter. David was trained as an operator and as an equipment repairman on the Rome Plow. He worked in the battalion maintenance shop and participated in several projects the battalion was involved with during the short few months he was at Fort Stewart, the most memorable being that of helping build a Boy Scout Camp located on the coast. He soon came out on orders to Vietnam as an individual replacement.
Arriving in California at the Oakland Army Terminal on August 16, 1967, David was put on a commercial flight from Travis Air Force Base that, after brief stops in Hawaii, Wake Island, and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon. He was expeditiously sent off to Di An, location of the 168th Engineer Battalion (known at the time as the 168th Land Clearing Force), and where he was further assigned to the 27th Land Clearing Team (LCT).
There were 30 Rome Plows in the 27th LCT, divided into three teams of ten each. Pfc Pennington became the contact maintenance man for one of the teams of ten plows, meaning that he did not work from the motor pool, but rather he and his tool kit accompanied the E-7 team chief on his M-113 personnel carrier as he constantly moved about keeping his ten plows at work. When one broke, David would be the first skilled repairman at the scene attempting to get it going again as quickly as possible. And, those times when the plows were operational, but the team would be short an operator, David would fill in and work one of the Rome Plows.
The newly assigned David Pennington had arrived just as the 27th LCT was returning from Operation Paul Bunyon I, and after only four or five days recovery and preparation time, they deployed on Operation Paul Bunyon II, to the Hobo Woods, a dangerous area near Cu Chi.
The Land Clearing Teams called themselves the Jungle Eaters, and they lived, worked and slept in the jungle. They expected to be at work clearing jungle about 300 days out of the year and to have minimal time back at Di An. When moving into a new area, they first hacked out a 500-yard clearing and set up their camp, and then they would displace the camp, normally every 2-3 days for security reasons and to keep up with the plows as their clearing operation progressed.
The 27th LCT spent 92 days on Operation Paul Bunyon II. The teams were each assigned separate areas to clear (determined by coin toss by the CO) and they would first carve out a large triangle or square and then work until it was clear. Infantry mounted on M-113 personnel carriers provided security around the perimeter. Today, Dave Pennington says, We came under fire a number of times in the Ho Bo Woods and were in fire fights. I was never hit, and always took care to not expend all my ammunition. We had M-14 rifles that took 7.62mm ammunition that could not be resupplied by the Infantry with their 5.56mm M-16s. The only alternative was to take apart the links of belted M-60 machine gun ammunition and that was a lot of trouble.
SP4 Pennington was wounded during Operation Atlanta after the Jungle Eaters had deployed to the Iron Triangle, about 31 miles north of Saigon, on January 7, 1968. Elements of 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry, 25th Infantry Division were providing security for the Rome Plows. The plows had some serious overheating problems, the result of leaves and debris clogging the air flow through the radiators. The solution was to send Pennington out with a large trailer mounted air compressor, towed by one of the Infantry M-113s, to make the rounds to the Rome Plows as they were working and to blow the trash out of the radiators often enough to keep them from overheating. Dave says, What happened then was the only time in Vietnam that I was really scared. An Infantry carrier had towed my trailer out and left me to service the Rome Plows where they were working. Time passed and the plows moved on and left me behind. The Infantry did not know to send a vehicle to move my trailer, so I was forgotten. The Iron Triangle was a dangerous enough place under the most favorable conditions, but a solitary soldier out there with no communications, abandoned at night, now that was really lonely feeling.
Eventually, back in camp, David was missed and his team sent out and brought him in. The fighting in TET-68 began a few days later while the LCTs were still on Operation Atlanta. The 27th LCT often encountered mines and sniper fire, and had earlier sustained an attack from a Viet Cong unit of unknown size; but this was something different. A North Vietnamese Army (NVA) unit hit the Jungle Eaters in force, targeting them with rocket fire. However, they did not remain to fight what was an apparently chance encounter. The NVA moved away, continuing on toward some other planned objective.
On January 29, 1968, SP4 Pennington was mounted on one of the Infantrys M-113 personnel carriers when it detonated a mine under the left track and then came under small arms fire. The driver was seriously wounded. David sustained shrapnel wounds to his head and his left hand and he was blown off the top of the vehicle injuring his back. After a brief fire fight ended the medic with the Infantry dressed Davids wounds and he remained with the unit. Some weeks later, in March 1968, he was brought in from the field and assigned to work in the maintenance section of the teams motor pool. Also at that time, the 27th LCT Commander, 1st Lieutenant William E. Gang, promoted him to Sergeant. David had a finger that became infected and swollen, from inadequate treatment of his earlier wounds and he was sent back to the 168th Engineer Battalion headquarters at Di An where he could be treated in the hospital.
In August 1968, he rotated back to the United States. With a year remaining on his enlistment, Sgt Pennington was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he worked as a mechanic in the 548th Construction Engineer Battalion. He was discharged from the Army on September 19, 1969 and returned home to Kansas.
He quickly transitioned to civilian life, finding employment as a mechanic with Haliburton in Liberal, Kansas. He met and married Linda Boyle during the three years he worked in Liberal. They later moved to Hutchinson, Kansas where David worked for International Harvester. After that, he was employed by Rainbow Bread for ten years. When his father became disabled David went back to operate the family farm at Meade, and then went on to work a 15,000 acre farm of one of his relatives.
In 1991 David became disabled. After treatment under care of the VA he went to work again as a mechanic for another 13 years, until finally in 2004 his worsening conditions forced him to retire, very much against his will. Shortly afterward, he and Linda moved to Texas where Chapter 1919 soon signed him up as a new life member in the Military Order of the Purple Heart. In Austin, however, David is best known as Commander, Lone Star Chapter 4, of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and he invites any prospective transfers or new members to call them, 512-836-2505, or e-mail email@example.com. Their website is: www.davmembersportal.org/chapters/tx/04. David is also his chapters Service Officer. This month, PATRIOT BULLETIN and MOPH Chapter 1919 proudly salute Patriot David L. Pennington.