POTSDAM — The rain paused for a moment on Wednesday morning as veterans and family alike gathered at the grave of Specialist 4 Leo Brent Gunning, a Potsdam man killed exactly 50 years ago to the day in Vietnam while attempting to save a fellow wounded soldier, Richard Davidson.
Mr. Davidson, a Canadian citizen now living in Montreal, came down to lay an 82nd Airborne wreath on the Gunning family grave in the Garfield Cemetery, to mark the division they served in together, and plant an American and Canadian flag at the grave.
“It’s something that had to be done,” Mr. Davidson told the Times. “He was a real hero.”
Mr. Davidson also laid a wreath for Mr. Gunning’s mother.
“We mustn’t forget our mothers,” Mr. Davidson said.
Mr. Davidson first addressed Mr. Gunning in his remarks at the grave.
“Leo, we’ve come here to pay our respects,” he said. Indicating the break in the clouds, he added, “I asked you to make the weather better, and you did.”
In his remarks, Mr. Davidson recalled Mr. Gunning as a history buff who taught him about the battle of Hastings, as well as less-academic pursuits they engaged in together.
“We smoked our share of pot,” Mr. Davidson remembered.
A high school classmate of Mr. Gunning and a fellow veteran, John Smith, also spoke during the ceremony about Mr. Gunning’s skill as a writer.
“(Mr. Gunning) told me he was keeping a journal, and that when he got out of Vietnam he was going to write a book,” Mr. Smith said. “And I know it would have been a bestseller.”
Mr. Davidson was accompanied to the ceremony by other members of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans, Quebec group. Members of local veterans organizations turned out as well.
“This is the first time I’ve seen something like this,” said Scott Nelson, commander of the Potsdam Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1194. Mr. Nelson said he had participated in funeral services before, but never a commemoration like this.
“I think it was a perfect ceremony,” Mr. Nelson said. “I’m really pleased and amazed at how many of the Canadian veterans showed up.”
Mr. Richardson said he signed up with the American army in 1965.
“I joined up not to go to Vietnam,” he said. “I wanted to make a better man out of myself.”
After training for 11 months in the Dominican Republic, he had the option to deploy to Vietnam and decided to take it.
“I had four days left in Vietnam when I got shot,” Mr. Davidson said. “Four days left. That’s unbelievable.”
Mr. Davidson said it was important to honor Mr. Gunning particularly as the only witness of the events in the Thua Thien province that led to Mr. Gunning’s death.
“No other people had been witness to what had happened,” Mr. Davidson said. “It’s not in the history books because there are no witnesses that remained alive. Lieutenant was shot in the head, radio man was shot in the head, Leo died over me, a couple other people were shot. I was dragging a wounded soldier when I got shot. ... And then the enemy threw a grenade that blew up and we had shrapnel all over our faces and bodies.”
Fifty years later and thousands of miles away, in the American Legion post in Potsdam after the ceremony, Mr. Nelson reflected on how incredible the commemoration was.
“After however many years, the guy’s partner comes back — the bond of the veteran’s pretty strong,” Mr. Nelson said. “You definitely don’t forget your brothers.”
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