Disabled vet urges youngsters to consider military service

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 13, 2000

David Province, who served as an artillery soldier in Vietnam, holds a certificate for a purple heart he received during his military service. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

David Province served his country in Vietnam, and today, Veterans Day, he has a message for people who might consider a hitch in the military and those who have skirted the call: “If you love your country, you do what it asks you to do.”

A high school dropout employed at LeTourneau, the Vicksburg resident got his call in 1967.

He was off to basic training and specialized training at Fort Sill, Okla., then to Vietnam as a member of the 8th Battalion of the 4th Artillery.

In the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia, one minute changed the rest of his life.

“We were at Dong Ha, almost to the DMZ (demilitarized zone),” he said.

Province described the DMZ as “an imaginary line separating North and South Vietnam. During the 1960s, the area around the DMZ was some of the more hotly contested real estate in Vietnam, and the 8th of the 4th had a large part in the fighting.

According to unit historians, the unit fired more than 40,000 rounds from its 175mm long range guns in support of Army and Marine Corps units.

Province said he arrived in Vietnam in July or August of 1967 and joined his unit at Dong Ha.

“We lived in hooches with a wood frame and a canvas top. We put sand bags all around the walls,” he said.

He served with a service battery on one of the 175mm guns from his arrival until he was wounded on March 10, 1968.

“It was a Sunday, and we were filling some sandbags to reinforce the walls of our hooch when the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army got close enough to us to drop a 152mm shell on us,” he recalled.

The shell hit near a group of five soldiers, just behind Province’s right shoulder. One died immediately, another the next day, and the other three were wounded.

Province was hit in both lungs, in the liver, right arm, right leg and right ear “14 places,” he said.

His arm injury was the most serious three nerves were hit and doctors didn’t know if it could be saved, even with surgery.

“He told me it was all experimental,” Province said.

That Sunday afternoon began a long and bumpy road, to hospitals there and in the Philippines, then to the hospital at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, where he spent two tough years learning how to use his left arm instead of the right one.

“The upper arm came back, but the lower arm is not too good,” he said, flexing the partially withered arm.

The major challenge was learning to write with his left hand.

“I was right-handed for 23 years, and I had to learn to write with my left. It is still awkward,” he said.

Part of the education was using paint-by-number kits. “I must have gone through a couple hundred dollars’ worth of them,” he said.

Today, Province remains 100 percent disabled but does what he can for veterans’ organizations.

“I’m not bitter about what happened in Vietnam,” he said.

He saves that feeling for people who won’t stand up and fight for their country.

The military, and especially the Army, is not as rough on its people as it was back in 1967, he said. “It’s changed 100 percent.”

And he thinks young people could benefit from a hitch in military service.

“They have some good opportunities now, and the majority of young men and women should go into the military,” he said. “Especially now when we don’t have a war going on.”