Dan Bullock: The Youngest Serviceman Killed In Action During the Vietnam War

Photo Credits: Corbis Historical / Getty Images (background) / USMC (Foreground)
Photo Credits: Corbis Historical / Getty Images (background) / USMC (Foreground)

On June 7 1969 a US Marine by the name of Dan Bullock was killed by the People’s Army of Vietnam. Although he was one of the thousands of Americans to die during the Vietnam War, Bullock had the unique, yet sad distinction of being the youngest US servicemember to be killed in the conflict. Bullock was so young, that the preceding events that led to the Vietnam War had already happened before he was even born.

Bullock was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina on December 21, 1953, just a year before the Vietnam War officially began. Depending on your perspective the Vietnam War began on a number of different dates. If the criteria are by the first US involvement in the region, then it began in June 1954. However, the conflict between French colonial rule and the Viet Minh had been going on since the 1940s.

When Bullock was 12 his mother died, so he and his younger sister moved to their father’s house in Brooklyn.

A child in Vietnam

Dan Bullock Youngest Vietnam Soldier lost as a US Servicemember
Official U.S.M.C. portrait of P.F.C. Dan Bullock. He altered his birth certificate to appear older and enlisted in the Marines at 14 years old. He died in combat at the age of 15 while acting as an ammunition runner for his unit which was under attack. (Photo Credit: United States Marine Corp)

At just 14 years of age, Bullock attempted to join the US Marine Corps, which his father objected to. Being far too young to serve, he changed his birth date on his birth certificate to December 21, 1949, instead of December 21, 1953, and was successfully processed through the Marine recruiting station in 1968. He did not tell his family until after he had entered the military.

He began training at the tough Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. and, with some help from a fellow recruit, managed to pass. Although he was still a child, Bullock stood about 5 feet 9 inches and weighed around 160 pounds.

By mid-1969 Bullock was in Vietnam, assigned to the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines in the 1st Marine Division. He was based at An Hoa Combat Base in the Quang Nam Province, a particularly dangerous area where American troops essentially had permission to use their weapons wherever they saw fit.

With most American children his age in school, playing sports, or watching their television sets, Bullock was on the other side of the planet living amidst a terrifyingly complex war, with death lurking behind every tree.

Despite his training and impressive physical stature, the hardened soldiers who served alongside him instantly knew something was off. He didn’t act like the rest of them. He was more reserved, constantly trying to keep his secret.

Bullock’s death

On June 7, 1969, Bullock was assigned to night watch in a bunker near An Hoa Combat Base‘s airstrip. He took a mule vehicle, loaded it up with supplies and ammunition, and headed to his bunker where he joined three other Marines. He was meant to be on cleaning duty, but after a Marine was injured he was reassigned to night watch.

That night though, the People’s Army of Vietnam launched an assault on the base. The beginning of the attack was signaled by a satchel charge thrown in through the firing slot of a bunker. This bunker happened to be Bullock’s. He and the other three Marines in the bunker were killed instantly.

Bullock was just 15 when he died and had been in Vietnam for less than a month.

The charge was thrown in by a North Vietnamese sapper, who was expertly trained to infiltrate the barbed wire and defenses of bases. The men in the bunker likely never even knew what was happening.

The attack that came after the explosion led to vicious hand-to-hand combat, but was eventually repelled with the loss of five Marines.

It is believed that Bullock is the youngest US servicemember to be killed since WWI.

On June 7 2003 a section of what was once his home on Lee Avenue in Brooklyn was renamed in his honor.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE