One Marine to another
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 11, 2011 1:46 PM
Frank Drohan crouches down and places a hand next to the image of a young man etched on a headstone nestled deep inside Elmwood Cemetery.
"I don't know why, but I just look at him there and I don't know," he said. "You come up here, and if the light's just right, you can see yourself in him."
He still can't quite say just what prompted him to make his way to Dan Bullock's final resting place Thursday afternoon.
"You know, this wasn't a planned thing," Drohan said. "All of a sudden, it was the Marine Corps' birthday and I just decided to come on out."
He knows what it is like to lie about his age -- to join a fight so a simple life would have meaning.
"He hadn't finished high school and he must have thought the Marine Corps would give him a start," Drohan said. "And you know, I felt that way, too."
And he witnessed the conditions Bullock found himself in when he arrived in Vietnam.
"He was in the grunts. That's what we called the infantry," Drohan said. "Can you imagine what he must have gone through? Good grief."
Born in Goldsboro, Bullock altered the date on his birth certificate to join the Corps at 14.
Within a year, he would become the youngest American killed in action in Vietnam.
It was June 7, 1969, and the An Hoa Combat base was under attack.
Bullock's comrades have said that the young man was gunned down after attempting, for a second time, to resupply his unit with ammunition.
"He was killed instantly," Drohan said, looking down at the headstone upon which he had, moments earlier, placed a Vietnam Service Ribbon and Marine Corps emblem. "That boy must have walked with a purpose as soon as he got his dress blues."
But despite his seemingly "heroic" and "selfless" actions, Bullock was never awarded a decoration for valor.
He didn't even have a funeral service or headstone when he was brought back to Goldsboro and laid to rest in front of his mother and grandmother.
"Something's just not right about that," Drohan said. "Someone's got to make this right."
But the former Marine is not the only one who believes the military should take a harder look at Bullock's story.
Two years ago, a middle school class in Pennsylvania began a campaign to have the young man posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The gesture was simple enough -- one Marine honoring another on the birthday of the military branch that changed their lives.
But the medals, emblem and American flags a Wayne County veteran left at a gravesite Thursday were far more humble offerings than Drohan feels Bullock deserves.
"My wife said, 'What are you doing? Where are you going with those medals? You should keep them. They're yours,'" Drohan said. "I told her, 'No. I want to give them to him. He deserves them.'"
Even if the young man, in the opinion of so many, rates something far more significant.
"I'm not through," Drohan said. "Not yet."
So much like those students at Chartiers Valley Middle School, the former Marine will take up Bullock's cause.
"Who knows where it will lead?" Drohan said. "If it's meant to be, it seems like it will fall into place."
And maybe then, Wayne County's youngest known hero will be remembered as something more than a boy who lied about his age only to become the most unique American casualty in Vietnam.
"He sure must have loved the Marine Corps to have gone through such great lengths to do what he did," Drohan said, stepping away from the grave. "He went right out there. Remarkable."