SGT Larry Wade Duke
January 31, 1948 – March 10, 1970
Born in Summerville, Georgia, SGT Larry Duke was born on January 31, 1948. He was assigned to the 6thplatoon, 1st Radio Battalion, III Marine Amphibious Force. His MOS/Specialty was 2571: Special Radio Operator.SGT Duke was killed in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam when the helicopter he was riding in crashed. The location of SGT Duke’s name can be found on the Vietnam memorial wall on Panel W31, Line 103.
The Death of Sergeant Larry Duke
By Joe Armstrong, March 10, 2003
In September 1969, I got transferred from Hill 55 to relieve GySgt Chuck Colvard as outpost Platoon Sgt for 6th platoon up on Dong Ha Mountain. For those of you who don’t remember, that’s about 1 click south of the DMZ, 2 clicks north of the Rock Pile, west of Camp Carrol and the Cam Lo Bridge. It was accessible only by helo, or if you had cloven hooves like a mountain goat. About half the time the helos couldn’t get up there because of cloud cover. The 6th platoon had two companies of U.S. Army 101st Airborne for security along with an army battery of 155’s. Myself, Sgt Larry Duke, Cpl Dan Braden, LCpl Garcia, two ASA Spec 4’s, an AFSS Airman 1st Class, two dancers, SSgts Quan and Angh made up to outpost platoon. Sgt Duke wasn’t there very long. He took off on R & R in October and didn’t come back to the 6th Platoon.
In late January 1970, on short notice, the Army removed all personnel from the 155’s and both companies of the 101st Airborne and replaced them with ARVNs. Needless to say the 6th Platoon pulled an extremely efficient and rapid re-deployment/re-location back to Radio Battalion at Dong Ha before the last of the 101st was gone from the mountain. From there I went to Hawaii for some R & R. After I returned in February 1970, I surveyed a couple of sites here and there, and the powers to be selected Hill 397, north and west of Hill 327 (Freedom Mountain), north of Danang at the entrance of Elephant Valley. Third platoon was created. Captain Norton was Platoon Commander and GySgt Phil Dorsett was Platoon Sgt/Senior Analyst. I was in charge of outpost construction along with Sgt Larry Duke, Cpl Dan Braden and two other Marines.
Third Platoon initially set up in an igloo on the handball courts in the area controlled by the 1st Marines. I don’t remember the Camp name. After we got the bubble, the generators, sand-bags and PSP set up, we started on the outpost construction atop Hill 397. The 26th Marines had established an observation post/listening post up there with a pair of ‘ships big eyes’, a ‘centaur’ and a couple of ‘star-lites’, but observation post/listening post wasn’t big enough for our operations.
The death of Sgt Duke
We were about two or three weeks into construction. Operations up on the hill was up and running . . . crudely, but working effectively. Cpl Braden or Sgt Duke would take turns scrounging what we needed that wasn’t readily available through the supply channels. Construction materials came up by helo normally. Sgt Duke and I had RON down at base camp. Battalion had scheduled a CH-46 for us the next day to make a couple of resupply runs. Sgt Duke and two of the 26th Marine observation post/listening post personnel were on the first run with mail, ammo, chow and some construction materials.
The CH-46 lifted off the helo-pad and lost power at about 150-200 feet. Not high enough to auto-rotate. The aircraft dropped like a rock, landing about 200 yards outside the wire line and flipped on its side and started burning. I don’t know how fast I covered the 100 yards distance and all the concertina wire between the landing zone and the bubble, but I was there before the rotors stopped thrashing bush and throwing dirt in the air. Captain Norton, Phil nor I could get to the helo. I remember that the crew chief and one pilot somehow got out of the aircraft, I don’t remember if anyone else made it out. You couldn’t see much of the aircraft because of the dense brush. The site was marked by black smoke from the burning fuel, white smoke from the burning magnesium air frame and red laser lines of light from tracers. In between the eruption of ammo and the WP explosions, we could hear the men trapped inside screaming. In absolute frustration and desperation I know I screamed, ranted, raved, went a little crazy, and finally sat down and cried. There was nothing we could do . . . nothing at all! Three other Marine passengers died in this crash – PopaSmoke.
There was a memorial service two or three days later somewhere down near China Beach. On a hillside, the sun was shining and a cool breeze from the South China Sea was blowing. Mostly – I remember the inverted M-16 with helmet and the quiet.
Cpl Braden and Sgt Duke had been pretty good friends in country and they had gone through Pensacola together. A couple of us thought that Cpl Braden would be the one to escort Sgt Duke back to the USA, but that didn’t happen. I don’t know who, if anyone escorted him back. Dan got out of the Corps after Viet-Nam; he and I still keep in touch. Over the years we’ve managed to get together a couple of times, lie to each other and even manage to lift a beer or two. Without fail though, we always set one aside for Sgt Duke. About four years ago, the ‘Traveling Wall’ came through town . . . . Somewhere out in my shop, in one of my footlockers, in one of my scrap books . . . I have a wall rubbing . . .