SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of Army PFC

David Ray Gatton

Harrold, South Dakota, Hughes County

 November 30, 1946 – December 29, 1966

Mortally wounded in action while on jungle patrol near Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam

David Ray Gatton was born November 30, 1946 at St Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, South Dakota to Robert Cecil and Maxine Anna (Ohrmund) Gatton. He was the oldest of four children with one brother Don and two sisters, Judy and Janet. David received his education in Sully and Hughes county schools and graduated from Harrold High School in 1965. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and was involved in many activities and sports while in high school. His favorite hobby was restoring antique cars. In the fall of 1965 he attended automotive technical school in Wichita, Kansas while working for Beech Aircraft Company.

Pfc. David R. Gatton was drafted and inducted into the Army on March 16, 1966. He received basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and jungle warfare training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. His unit flew out of Travis Air Force Base, California, on September 9th 1966, and arrived in Vietnam Sunday morning September 11, 1966. Pfc. David Gatton served with Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, located north of Saigon.

Pfc. Gatton’s brother, Don, wrote,

No one wants to go to war, David was no different. He had hoped desperately to avoid duty in Vietnam, but when presented with it, he faced the situation bravely and uncomplainingly.

In a letter to his parents dated September 15, 1966, Pfc. Gatton wrote, in part,

Things are a lot different over here than I had imagined. I have come to the conclusion that we are here for a worthy cause. I think if the people back home, who are against the war, could see what it is really like here, they would change their minds.

Later he wrote,

It is hard to imagine how poor these people are without really seeing it. I’m glad I’m here, if for no other reason than to find out how lucky I am to live in the United States.

On the evening of December 28, 1966, Pfc. Gatton’s squad was in an ambush position on a road crossing near Phuoc Vinh. The patrol made contact with a large enemy company. During the engagement, Pfc. David Gatton was mortally wounded by mortar fragments. He was air evacuated to an Army hospital where he died Saturday morning, December 29, 1966. He received the Purple Heart and on May 23, 1967 was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for Valor. The citation reads in part:

For heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force: On December 29, 1966, PFC Gatton was a member of a patrol which had set up an ambush at a cross road. Suddenly, the unit made contact with a large hostile force and came under devastating automatic weapons, mortar and small arms fire. PFC Gatton unhesitatingly began to lay an intense base of fire on the advancing insurgents, successfully repelling several assaults. As ammunition became dangerously low, the patrol began to withdraw where it could call in artillery and link up with another fire team. En route to the pre-selected site, the American unit became violently engaged with another Viet Cong force. Pfc David Gatton courageously elected to stay behind and maintained a steady volume of deadly fire on the insurgents until his comrades had reached cover. He was mortally wounded in the process of rejoining his unit. His extraordinary heroism and selfless display of devotion to duty and personal bravery is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division and the United States

On November 11, 1967 the Government of South Vietnam posthumously awarded Pfc. Gatton with the Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Military Merit Medal. Pfc. David Gatton’s body was returned to Pierre, South Dakota where his family held his funeral on January 8, 1967. Internment was in the Pierre Riverside Cemetery with full military honors.


His brother and sisters remember Dave with pride and miss their loving brother’s smile and charm. He was a great brother and will continue to be missed.

This entry was respectfully submitted by Cole O’Conner, 7th Grade, Stanley County Middle School, Fort Pierre, South Dakota, April 14, 2005. Information for this entry was provided by Don Gatton, Blanding, Utah, brother of David, Judy Gatton, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Janet Livingston, Lees Summit, Missouri, sisters of Pfc. David Ray Gatton.


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