Donovan V. Elliott Jr Military Service

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Having been born deaf in one ear, Donovan Elliott (or Duff), was physically ineligible for military service, but a strong family tradition of service in the United States military caused him to seek enlistment anyway, first in the Navy and then the Army. He was however rejected because of his disability. Nevertheless, the Selective Service System apparently did not take note of these rejections, for one day late in 1965 he received a draft notice, and was directed to report for processing at the Los Angeles military induction center. Believing it to be a mistake or a waste of time, he ignored the letter. Much later, when a second letter showed up telling him to report to the Santa Ana, California, draft board, he showed up expecting to be rejected, again. Apparently, because he had ignored the first letter they took him. He was officially inducted into the service on 14 June 1965.

He later told me, in jest I hope, that the sole physical exam being performed that day was a check to see if you could fog a mirror, in which case you were IN. For they decided that he could serve after all! And so he was inducted into the US Army, and What I suspect is this: they checked his ears and decided that since he had been given a draft notice, well, he must be faking the deafness. That's my theory, anyway.

Enlistment and Training

Upon induction into the Army, he was sent off to Fort Bliss, Texas to be trained as an Air Defense Artilleryman. He was trained at Fort Bliss, Texas, as a Hawk Missile Fire Control Crewman (MOS Code: 16E). The Hawk was a medium range, radar-guided, surface-launched anti-aircraft missile that mainly served as a "just in case" defensive weapon in Viet Nam, as enemy aircraft south of the so-called DMZ were literally non-existent. Duffy spent his entire career as an air defense artilleryman driving and maintained ground vehicles, something at which he excelled.

No Time for Sergeants

Duff did not take kindly to this roundabout way of getting him into the service, and ever afterward he maintained a rather disgusted attitude about the whole thing. Nevertheless, his ability as a backyard mechanic and driver was recognized, and rather than ship him off to Vietnam or some other place, he was assigned to be the official driver of a US Army colonel at Fort Bliss. This plum duty made it possible for him to enjoy life in the Army rather more than would be expected as a one-striper, and his Colonel also apparently liked him a great deal. So he had it made. Until one fine day.

It was on a Friday in May 1966, the start of a weekend, and he and his buddies had been drinking when he decided that he wanted to introduce his friends to his Mom's home cooking in Garden Grove, California, some thousand miles distant. And off they went. By the time they arrived in Garden Grove, the weekend was half over. Their arrival surprised his mother greatly, and worriedly she asked him if he had been given a pass to be off post (the Army was a little stricter about such things in those days), and upon discovering that this adventure was completely without permission, she hurriedly fixed them a good meal and sent them packing, back to Fort Bliss. And they almost made it. They were approaching the Texas border in the wee hours of Monday morning, probably speeding a bit to make sure they made it back in time for morning formation, when a New Mexico law officer pulled them over. He recognized them immediately as soldiers out of uniform, and, inquiring about passes, discovered they were AWOL. They ended up being taken into custody and held for the Military Police.

No More Easy Duty

United States Army Republic of Vietnam (USARV)

As a result of the misadventure with the drive to California, Duff lost his job as the Colonel's driver, and soon thereafter found himself in Viet Nam, driving a 2.5 ton truck for an Air Defense Artillery unit at Bien Hoa Airbase. Due to the size of the air base, and his job, he never had to be involved in serious combat, although he did witness some harrowing events at a comfortably long range. His assigned unit was Battery B of the 6th Battalion, 56th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, a part of the corps-level support unit United States Army Republic of Vietnam (USARV).

56th ADA Regiment

Duff told me that he only fired his weapon, an M14, one time during any form of combat in his tour of duty. Through a lot of smoke and dust one or more Viet Cong guerillas were sighted, and he fired, but he said he didn't know if he hit any of them.

There was a time when his deaf ear came into play in a dramatic way. One morning he had been sleeping peacefully on his good ear, but when he turned over, he was suddenly wakened by the sound of nearby explosions. He saw that his barracks was empty, and fearing that the enemy might have broken into the airbase, he quickly donned his boots and trousers, put on his helmet, and rushed outside with his M14 held at the ready. When he emerged he found his barracks-mates sitting on the sandbag revetments surrounding the barracks, drinking beer and eating snacks as they watched the Bien Hoa Air Base ammo dump go up in smoke and explosions. A Viet Cong rocket barrage had set things off, and it was quite a fireworks show. His buddies were very amused at his sudden appearance as if ready for combat, and ribbed him about it many times in the coming weeks.

Among the interesting things he did as a 2 1/2 ton truck driver for the air defense artillery was one time painting his truck pink, and on another occasion, having become annoyed at the truck's wimpy engine, he stole a larger engine designed for a 5-ton truck and somehow managed to fit it into the engine compartment of his smaller truck. He apparently had the fastest deuce-and-a-half in the US Army at that point. Unfortunately the Army was not particularly amused by any of this, and as soon as his pink truck was discovered he was made to repaint it olive drab. I understood that he managed to keep his truck super-powered for a time, but that was eventually discovered, too, and had to be put back in its "proper" state.

Awards, Decorations and Badges

Private First Class
Donovan's military decorations: National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Service Medal

At the end of his two year's service in 1967 he returned home to the United States. Actually, since his mother was then living in Toronto, Canada due to his stepfather Don Clark's employment, he went there instead. Although it was a warm summer in Toronto, Duff had to wear sweaters because after the heat of Viet Nam, it was too cold for him -- at least until he acclimated to it. Duffy was honorably discharged at the rank of Private First Class (PFC), having received the following:

  • National Defense Medal
  • Vietnam Service Medal
  • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • Army Meritorious Unit Commendation (for 6th Bn 56th ADA). ArmyMeritoriousUnitCommendation.png
  • Sharpshooter (M-14 Rifle) SharpshooterRifleQualBadge.png
  • Overseas Service Bars (2) 100px


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