01/25/10 — Remembering Private Bullock

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Remembering Private Bullock

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 25, 2010 1:46 PM

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Pfc. Dan Bullock's gravestone is in Goldsboro's Elmwood Cemetery.

It could have simply been another history lesson -- a tale of courage and youth interrupted passed from a teacher to his students on Veterans Day.

But when a group of Pennsylvania teenagers came to know Pfc. Dan Bullock, they vowed to fight, as they believe he did, for "what's right."

At 14, Bullock, a Goldsboro native, lied about his age to join the Marine Corps -- and the war effort mounting in Vietnam.

Chartiers Valley Middle School student Cody Reinstadtler found Bullock's age of enlistment, alone, hard to fathom.

After all, he, too, is only 14.

"Him going to war at such a young age, it humbles me," Cody said. "This kid literally went over with adults."

And the rest of the Marine's story -- how he was gunned down within a year of arriving in the jungle during an attempt to resupply his unit with ammunition when An Hoa Combat Base fell under attack June 7, 1969 -- left the boy and his peers inspired.

"He chose to fight and die and I think, honestly, that should humble everybody our age," Cody said. "This kid ... was willing to sacrifice everything he had."

Cody's civics teacher, Adam Sivitz, hoped sharing Bullock's story with his students would get them thinking.

But he had no idea that most would choose to write their local congressman, demanding Bullock receive what they believe he is due -- the Medal of Honor -- despite the fact that he lied about his age to join the service -- the reason, they say, the Wayne County native has not been nominated for the country's most coveted medal for valor.

Their letters were received last month by Pennsylvania's District 18 Rep. Tim Murphy, who forwarded them to Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the man who represents voters in Bullock's hometown.

"I call your attention to a request from students of Chartiers Valley Middle School," Murphy wrote. "The students of Mr. Adam Sivitz's civics class have written to me requesting that Private First Class Dan Bullock be recommended for the Medal of Honor. (Bullock) was a rifleman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Foxtrot Company. His death occurred by gunfire after attempting to replenish the unit's ammunition supply during an attack by the North Vietnamese."

Butterfield said Thursday he has reviewed Bullock's story and the letters sent from Pennsylvania.

And while he is not yet sure whether the young Marine's actions warrant the Medal of Honor, he vowed to do everything in his power to ensure Sivitz's class's efforts bear results.

"It's a very serious request so we have to look at the totality of the circumstances to see if (Bullock's) actions ... warrant the Medal of Honor. I don't want to send a message to the public that you can misrepresent your age ... but at the same time, we have to look at all of the circumstances," Butterfield said. "I'm willing to, perhaps, overlook (the fact that he lied), if his actions were sufficient. ... I'm going to take this matter very seriously."

Rachael Hopkins, 14, another one of Sivitz's students, is sure the private's attempt to save his unit earned him the Medal of Honor.

"It kind of makes me mad that he sacrificed ... and he wasn't rewarded for it," she said.

Classmate Paul Novelli agreed, and called the fact that Bullock has yet to be honored for his sacrifice "a great disrespect."

And 13-year-old Gyan Mehta is prepared to pursue the issue for years to come.

"I won't stop writing letters," he said. "We've already gone this far. Why stop now?"

Cody agrees.

"We really can't stop until he gets something," he said. "And we won't."

Regardless of the outcome of the students' efforts, both Sivitz and Butterfield said their passion casts a bright outlook of the future of the nation.

"We have been encouraging young people to pay attention to the workings of our government ... and the fact that they have paid attention to this issue ... is appreciated and demonstrates to me that we have young people who are going to, one day .... take this country to the next level," Butterfield said. "And by young people raising this issue, it's a lesson to all of us on the importance of the military and the enormous sacrifices that our military personnel make."

But don't think those students are satisfied in simply knowing that they have shown up on the radar of a member of Congress.

It could have been a simple history lesson, but now, it's their cause.

"This ends when he gets the respect he deserves," Paul said.

To help the students at Chartiers Valley Middle School accomplish their goal of getting Goldsboro native Private Dan Bullock posthumously honored for his sacrifice in Vietnam, contact U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, 413 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515. His telephone number is 1-202-225-3101. Comments can also be directed through his website.