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Subject: Archive: Dale Buis & Chester Ovnand, July 8, 1959

First Americans killed in the Vietnam War
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Date Posted: Monday, July 08, 02:00:47pm

Escalation and widespread attention towards the conflict in Vietnam may not have hit many televisions and media outlets before 1965, but American advisors were arriving, almost silently, in Southeast Asia.

In July 1954, The Geneva Accords temporarily split Vietnam into North and South with the 17th parallel as the dividing line. In 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Western-educated Catholic favored by the US, would serve as the first president of South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh would lead a communist state in the North. There were two different regimes trying to retain control and indoctrinate their people. A trail was also in the midst of being constructed to help supply North Vietnamese forces, which would later be known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

U.S advisors began arriving in South Vietnam in November 1955 to offer military advice and assistance. The Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) administered military aid and helped train South Vietnam’s armed forces.

On July 8, 1959 there was an attack on a MAAG compound in Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon, where the first two Americans were killed by hostile fire. The two men were Major Dale R. Buis and Master Sergeant Chester M. Ovnand. Both were advisors supporting the South Vietnamese in their fight against the North.

Buis and Ovnand are the first names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stanley Karnow, who worked for TIME and Life magazine at the time, recalls the incident. After arriving at the site, he discovered that the two Americans had been killed in an ambush while watching the film, The Tattered Dress, during a break in their duties.

Ovnand is said to have risen to turn on the lights to change the reel when the enemy surrounded and opened fire. The advisors were killed instantly.

Two Vietnamese guards were also killed.

Karnow recalls the attack being “the beginning of one of America’s longest wars,” though he did not recognize it at the time.

Dale Buis was 37 when he made the ultimate sacrifice. He had arrived at Bien Hoa just two days prior. He was a 1942 graduate of Wentworth Military Academy, one of 13 Wentworth graduates listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Chester Ovnand was from Copperas Cove, Texas and was exactly two months shy of his 45th birthday. Little has been said about Ovnand, however, it is known that he was married.

The names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as The Wall, are listed chronologically by date of death. Ovnand and Buis’ names are located at the apex of the memorial.


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