The 35th Infantry Regiment Association salutes our fallen brother, SGT Derris Brown, who died in the service of his country on September 27th, 1968 in Quang Duc Province, Vietnam. The cause of death was listed as Small Arms/AW. At the time of his death Derris was 28 years of age. He was from Bladenboro, North Carolina. Derris is honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel 42W, Line 26.
The decorations earned by SGT Derris Brown include: the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation.
Buried in the Poone Cemetery in Abbottsburg,NC
Vietnam veteran seeks family of comrade
By Jefferson Weaver of the Bladen Journal, Elizabethtown, NC. (reprinted with permission)
One section of our newspaper's website which I regularly check is called the guestbook.
Like a real, hardbound guestbook in which one actually uses a pen to scribble a signature and a greeting, ours is a record of folks who visit our website.
Most times, people leave little notes, asking about old friends, how are things in their hometown, or sometimes thanking us for running one story or another.
There are even some who use the guestbook to snap and snarl at us, and others who use us for free advertising.
Some notes are brief and clear. Many of the messages are in the computer shorthand that may take a moment or two to decipher.
But the message from David Kemple needed no deciphering.
"Sgt. Derris Brown lost his life in the Republic of Vietnam," the message read. "I want to tell his family what happened. If you know his family please pass this on." The message was followed by Kemple's email address.
I pondered over Kemple's message for a while, then I am ashamed to admit, it went by the wayside as shinier or noisier projects demanded attention.
But the other night, for some reason, I checked the guestbook again, and there was David Kemple's message, waiting patiently.
I must admit-much of what I remember about the Vietnam Era comes from fuzzy TV footage half-remembered from my childhood, stories at church brotherhood dinners, and other, grittier stories told at the barbershop or at funerals.
I vaguely recall being home sick from school and watching the evacuation of Saigon.
We had and have a handful of Vietnam veterans in our family. Those of you who know me even in passing can guess where we stood on that war.
In college, I found myself facing professors who had either served and become jaded, or had dodged and were determined that the sixties hadn't died.
Neither an ex-Army Ranger political science instructor, nor either of my left-wing English professors, could provide the answers many of us sought.
David Kemple doesn't know if Derris Brown's family has any questions about Brown's bravery, but he has some answers.
But before I describe Derris Brown the hero, let me tell you about Derris Brown the soldier.
Kemple said Brown was already a professional soldier when the Army instituted a program to create more non-commissioned officers. Brown had earned his sergeant's stripes well before Kemple was handed his own.
But Brown took Kemple under his wing; rather than resenting the newly created sergeant, he set about turning him into a leader of men.
Other such relationships between senior sergeants and new bucks were not so friendly, but Brown and Kemple became fast friends and comrades.
Their primary mission as sergeants was to make sure none of their men became names on a slab of stone in Washington, or in the front yard of the Elizabethtown National Guard Armory.
That friendship and Brown's training would become important to the survival of a handful of young men trapped in the jungle.
In one of the thousands of engagements that made up the Vietnam War, the five men were pinned down and in need of help on Sept. 27, 1968.
Derris Brown, David Kemple and a squad of warriors of Alpha Co., 2nd. Battalion of the 35th Infantry Regiment went to help. They did not know they were going up against a reinforced company of North Vietnamese regular troops rather than Viet Cong guerillas.
If you aren't familiar with how the military counts people, a company is generally composed of four platoons, which are in turn composed of four squads each.
In short, Kemple, Brown and their boys were badly outnumbered.
The Alpha Company squad ran into heavy fire, and almost immediately began taking casualties. The NVA began moving around the squad's flank, trying to surround the men of Alpha Company.
In the way peculiar to American soldiers-and truth be told, peculiar to many who answer any country's call to service-Derris Brown moved out from under cover and began redirecting some of the company's firepower.
He couldn't see the enemy from his relatively safe position, so he moved out and began calling commands to his men, marking himself as a target but guiding their fire, too.
Alpha Company responded, and was able to drive off the enemy, losing nine of their own.
Including Derris Brown.
David Kemple told me all he knew at first was that Derris Brown hailed from Bladenboro.
That's why he posted his note on our website-like so many warriors of that generation they had little idea of their comrades' worlds outside their own little camp thousands of miles from home.
He has since made contact with Derris Brown's sister, but would be happy to correspond with any other members of the family who are interested.
That a resident of our county gave his life for others 10,000 miles from home is not surprising, given our county's history of sacrifice. If you doubt that record, go check the local memorials, and count the number of Bladenites who have fought and died for their country.
I am sure there is no monument to that day's actions; I am equally sure that it has likely gotten neither more nor less recognition than many of the times men fought in Vietnam.
Those battles and skirmishes and firefights are too numerous, and historians too few, to record every single one, although they should be recorded.
If they were, maybe we could understand why we sometimes have to send Americans fight and die far from home.
One thing I know David Kemple wants to tell Derris Brown's family, and everyone who knew him-Brown was a hero, one of the many who went 10,000 miles from home because their country said it was the thing to do.
He fought for his country, but he gave his life for his friends and his men.