At 25, David O. Warnken of Hutchinson, Kan., never expected to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. It just wasn’t on his radar. This was the mid 1960s. Vietnam was still very far away, something you might see on television from time to time, or read about in the newspaper’s interior pages. Soon enough, it was a full-on war that called for an expanded draft.
Married and starting his career, Warnken was informed one day that his draft notice was in the mail, but there was one billet available for him in the Navy. He took it.
Sooner than he could have imagined, the farm boy from Kansas was a Seabee in the Vietnam War, an experience that would forever shape his life.
American Legion Media & Communications Division multi-media specialist Hilary Ott recently captured Warnken’s story for a four-part video series that begins this week and will continue each Friday through May 26, in honor of Memorial Day.
Warnken saw his share of combat and the losses that come with it while he was deployed. One loss in particular never left him. When Chief Donald J. Barnes rolled away for Khe Sanh, he told Warnken he could sit this trip out. “I’ve already seen my five children,” Chief Barnes told him. “I want you to see yours.” Those were the last words they shared.
On June 6, 1967, the war was over for Chief Barnes.
View Part 1 of “A Vietnam Seabee’s Vow” on The American Legion YouTube channel. The first episode, “Farm to Fight,” is followed by “Boot Camp to Combat,” “Vietnam to Post 68” and “A War Finally Over.”