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Alum David Ballentine details Vietnam experience in ‘Gunbird’ memoir

David Ballentine has many titles: PhD, DU alum, college instructor, Marine. But the one whose significance he finds increases with age is the designation Vietnam combat veteran.

Ballentine (PhD philosophy ’79) recently put his Vietnam experiences into a memoir, Gunbird Driver: A Marine Huey Pilot’s War in Vietnam (Naval Institute Press, 2008). The book was an outgrowth of Ballentine’s original intention: to document his experiences to share with future generations of his family.

Gunbird Driver details Ballentine’s time piloting an armed UH-1E helicopter, or Huey, which was equipped with rocket pods and machine guns. As Ballentine puts it, anyone who has seen a Vietnam movie is likely familiar with the Huey.

The memoir outlines Ballentine’s tour as a Huey pilot from 1966–67, one year before the Tet Offensive. During his time stationed at Ky Ha, he performed duties from supply drops and evacuating the wounded to trading fire with the Viet Cong and transporting Miss World to a Bob Hope Christmas show.

The book’s tone ranges from deadly serious to darkly comic, as Ballentine recalls his encounters with rats, makeshift bathrooms and the lingo of young soldiers. He provides information about missions, operations and living conditions, as well as reflections about those he served alongside.

Ballentine currently teaches part time at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. Most recently, he taught a Western civilization class that focused on theologians and philosophers.

One Comment

  1. Raymond L. Britt says:

    During the latter part of 1966, I recall a tall, slender First Lieutenant checking into VMO-6 S-1 Office, MAG-36, 1st Marine Air Wing at Ky Ha, Republic of South Vietnam.

    That would be checking in also to the Vietnam War as a pilot with the longer title of Marine Observation Squadron Six. VMO-6 was an observation squadron, but ended up doing many more things because of the durability of the UH-1E helicopter during the Vietnam War. This squadron was traced back to World War II, being the first helicopter squadron to rescue a down, wounded pilot behind enemy line.

    That slender, tall Marine Officer was no one other than a mustache First Lieutenant David A. Ballentine.

    When I discovered in the later years of my life a book written by Dr David A. Ballentine about his days as a pilot in VMO-6 in the Vietnam War, I had to purchase and read the book. Of course I found the book slightly different than what I can recall, but with absolute authenticity regarding the life surrounding the life of Marines at Ky Ha and the daily activities of the squadron.

    I would love to contact Dr. Ballentine to traverse down memory lane, if he is still alive, and would hope that you the webmaster, still has contact information regarding Dr. Ballentine. I have contacted Johnson County Community College, but have learned his name is now not on the Staff of the College.

    Therefore, I would hope if you do have his contact information, please forward my email to him.

    Thank you so much.

    Sgt Raymond L. Britt
    Marine Observation Squadron 6, S-1 Office
    Vietnam Veteran
    Cold War Veteran
    Virginia Police Department
    Wisconsin Deputy Sheriff

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