When an ambush turned sour, Petty Officer David Larsen took up arms to provide support for his fellow servicemen. Taking on an enemy force of between 35-50 enemy troops, he saved the lives of multiple Marines and changed the course of an encounter that looked like it was going to end poorly for the Americans.
David Larsen was a member of a US Navy patrol team
During the Vietnam War, Petty Officer David Larsen was a member of the US Navy, serving as a gunner’s mate third class with River Division 593, River Patrol Flotilla FIVE, Task Force 116 (TF-116). His team was part of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) and operated aboard River Patrol Boat 775 (PBR-775), which consisted of a two-boat guard post along the upper Saigon River.
On August 2, 1969, Larsen’s team was tasked with transporting a six-man (some say seven-man) ambush team up the river to set up a position along the riverbank. Their mission was to provide security for the guard post. As the day turned to evening, they were dropped off and settled into their positions. Later that night, the ambush team engaged four enemy troops, not knowing what they were actually about to find themselves in.
Enter David Larsen and his M60 machine gun
It turned out the enemy troops were part of a 35- to 50-man force that immediately engaged with the ambush team. They began using accurate rocket and small-arms fire against them, killing half of the Marines and seriously wounding two more. Only one member of the team remained relatively unscathed.
During the deadly encounter, someone was able to call back to PBR-775 and request support. David Larsen quickly armed himself with an M60 machine gun and plenty of ammunition before leading a small force to where the team was positioned. Seeing that the enemy troops were about to overrun those who remained standing, he began firing his weapon.
Changing the course of the encounter
David Larsen’s assault on the enemy was enough to hold them off and, ultimately, put a stop to the attack. He provided enough cover for the wounded to clear their positions, and he killed at least one enemy soldier. While waiting for help to arrive, he set up a one-man perimeter, despite being under enemy fire, and held off any further attacks.
Larsen was able to save three members of the ambush team and maintained his defensive position to protect the medical evacuation helicopter and its crew. By this time, however, he was armed with three different weapons.
When asked by the Smithsonian Channel what was going through his mind during the encounter, Larsen calmly responded, “At the time, it just comes to you that you need to do it to get the job done.” For his bravery, he was awarded the Navy Cross.