The first two Americans killed in Vietnam died 60 years ago today

Julia LeDoux
July 08, 2019 - 12:52 pm
Major Dale Ruis and Master Sgt Chester Ovnand

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

The first two Americans to die as the result of hostile fire in Vietnam were killed 60 years ago today.

Maj. Dale R. Ruis and Master Sgt. Chester M. Ovnand were killed July 8, 1959 when their Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) compound in Bien Hoa was  attacked by the North Vietnamese. 

Ruis, 37, had arrived in Bien Hoa just two days before and was a 1942 graduate of Wentworth Military Academy. Not much is known about Ovnand, except he was married and died exactly two months before his 45th birthday. Both men were advisors helping South Vietnam in its fight against North Vietnam.

Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who worked for Time and Life magazines, found out that the men died while watching the film "The Tattered Dress" while on a break. According to Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Ovnand reportedly turned on the lights in order to change the film reel when North Vietnamese soldiers began shooting. Two Vietnamese guards were also killed in the attack.

Their names are the first to be inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The names on The Wall are listed chronologically by date of death. Ovnand and Ruis' names are found at the apex of the memorial.

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