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Tuesday, March 06, 2012
TFH 3/6: Seaman David G. Ouellet, USN
David George Ouellet was born June 13, 1944 in Newton, MA at the height of World War II. Just seven days before, the Allied Expeditionary Force stormed Hitler's Fortress Europe on D-Day. On his birthday, American soldiers found themselves under heavy counter-attack by German Panzergrenadiers around Carentan.
At age 20 in 1964, he felt our Nation's call and enlisted in the United States Navy. Not long after completing his initial training, he was sent to Vietnam with an assault craft unit. His first tour there lasted five months. Ouellet was then sent back to San Diego for training in riverine patrol boats, known as PBRs. After retraining, he returned to war in Vietnam.
On March 6, 1967 while a crewman of PBR-124, Ouellet observed a grenade flung by a concealed enemy along shore about to land on the boat. He knew that the only way to save his crew mates from death and perhaps the boat from destruction was to place their lives and value above his own. He acted, and his incredible heroism was later recognized with our Nation's highest honor.
From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (M-Z):
*OUELLET, DAVID G.
Rank and organization: Seaman, U.S. Navy, River Squadron 5, My Tho Detachment 532. Place and date: Mekong River, Republic of Vietnam, 6 March 1967. Entered service at: Boston, Mass. Born: 13 June, 1944, Newton, Mass. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As the forward machine gunner on River Patrol Boat (PBR) 124, which was on patrol during the early evening hours, Seaman Ouellet observed suspicious activity near the river bank, alerted his boat captain, and recommended movement of the boat to the area to investigate. While the PBR was making a high-speed run along the river bank, Seaman Ouellet spotted an incoming enemy grenade falling toward the boat. He immediately left the protected position of his gun mount and ran aft for the full length of the speeding boat, shouting to his fellow crewmembers to take cover. Observing the boat captain standing unprotected on the boat, Seaman Ouellet bounded on to the engine compartment cover, and pushed the boat captain down to safety. In the split second that followed the grenade's landing, and in the face of certain death, Seaman Ouellet fearlessly placed himself between the deadly missile and his shipmates, courageously absorbing most of the blast fragments with his body in order to protect his shipmates from injury and death. His extraordinary heroism and his selfless and courageous actions on behalf of his comrades at the expense of his life were in the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
David Ouellet's name is inscribed on Panel 16E, Line 30 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. He is buried and rests in peace in Woodlawn Cemetery, Wellesley, MA. The Navy paid perhaps the highest honor it could give alone to him on December 12, 1970 when the Knox-class frigate USS Ouellet (FF-1077) was commissioned. The Ouellet's first operational deployment to the Western Pacific saw her engage the enemy off the shores of Vietnam; that in of itself an awesome tribute to her namesake killed about five years before. (And yes, I am going to take this opportunity to link again to my open letter to Gabrielle Giffords on what a disgrace it is that she accepted the naming of a US Navy warship for herself.)
The USS Ouellet served our Nation and Navy well until the end of the Cold War. She was decommissioned in 1993 and struck from the Navy List in early 1995. Unlike many of her sisters and other ex-warships, she was not cut up for scrap or sunk as a target. Ouellet was sold to Thailand and was commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy in 1998 as the HTMS Phutthaloetla Naphalai (FFG 462). She still sails with that allied force today.