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Vietnam vet receives his service medals at long last



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Senator Jeanne Shaheen, right, presided over a military service medals ceremony for five New Hampshire veterans on Wednesday at her Senate offices in Manchester. Vietnam War vet David Dorben of Lancaster, center is flanked by Major General William Reddel Adjutant General of the N. H. National Guard, left, and Shaheen. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
June 06, 2012
MANCHESTER — Senator Jeanne Shaheen helped to rectify a longstanding oversight on Wednesday afternoon when she presided at a military service medals ceremony in which David Dorben of Lancaster was presented with five medals for which he qualified for his service with the 864th Battalion Army Engineers in 1965-1966 in Vietnam. Dorben received the Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with device, and Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar from Major General William Reddel, the Adjutant General of the N. H. National Guard.

Four other veterans also received medals for long-ago service: two more in Vietnam, one in the Korean Conflict, and one in World War II. Shaheen's office assisted all five veterans with obtaining the medals that they were due.

Dorben was 22 years old when he was drafted and joined the Army on January 14, 1964, in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Trained as a radio operator, he was assigned to the 2nd Cavalry, First Armored Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. But then when the Army Engineers needed to fill certain slots with men trained in specific tasks, Dorben was transferred to the 864th Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas.

The Battalion was shipped in January 1965 to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Dorben recalls that the troop ship was unable to enter the shallow port so that they had to transfer to smaller vessels.

"I spent a year in Vietnam," Dorben said in a telephone interview. First he was posted to Cam Ranh Bay, where the Battalion constructed its first temporary airstrip at the edge of the water as well as temporary cement tent platforms. After six months the soldiers were reassigned to Nha Trang to work on building another airstrip. It was there on Christmas night, 1965, that Dorben had his only experience under fire. The Battalion was surrounded by American Special Forces troops who were able to hold their own against their attackers, however, he said.

After a week of debriefing in January 1966 in Oakland, Cal., Dorben, who was by then a Specialist 4, was given the pay he was owed and discharged. "I went to the airport and got a flight back East," he explained. "My best friend picked me up at the airport, but, to say the least, I wasn't given a parade. A lot of vets from that era now greet soldiers who are coming back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that's very nice!"

Dorben, his wife Joanne, and their then-year-old baby, Katie, moved to Lancaster in 1989 when he was working in Connecticut at Stinehour Press.

"We thought it would be better to raise our daughter in Vermont or New Hampshire," he said, adding that they all believe that was the correct choice, even though four years ago the Press was shuttered.

Dorben said that his service had one specific and positive lasting effect on him. He was older when he was drafted than most of the other men, and he remembers thinking that they were "wet behind the ears" and needed some mentoring, which he provided.

It is this same impulse that has made him almost a professional volunteer, helping to coach various youth teams.

Dorben said, "I enjoy helping out those who are younger, and I learned that in the service."

It was a few months ago that he and his wife went to see a Shaheen staffer on another matter entirely at office hours held in Whitefield. In passing they mentioned that he had never received the medals to which he is entitled due to his service. About three months later Dorben said they were all mailed to him.

Then much to his surprise and delight, he received an invitation to come to the Queen City on May 30 — the original Memorial Day — to be officially present with his medals.

"It was very moving; tears were in my eyes and also in Katie's," Joanne said in a telephone interview the following day. "Dave already feels better about that period of his life."

On their way home, the Dorben family stopped in Concord to see Father Ray Ball, formerly of All Saints Church and Gate of Heaven Parish in Lancaster.

Now Pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Father Ray later that week celebrated his 25th anniversary of becoming a Roman Catholic priest.

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