This is a picture of Fitzy, me and David Hamilton shortly before I dropped Dave off at the air field to go to Saigon to be reassigned. There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding his death and his month long stay with me only creates more.
I walked into a makeshift USO quonset hut one afternoon and saw these three guys horsing around.There was Dave and Fitzy, who I didn’t know, and a guy I did know, Cliffy Perkins, a mortal enemy of mine from Somerville. We had a knock down drag out at a New Years Eve party as 1965 turned to a fateful 1966. Talk about mixed emotions. I had been gunning for this guy and now, here we are in a war zone in a foreign country face to face. You get over yourself real quick in a situation like that.
So the four of us bonded and were soon spending our nights getting high, eating C-Ration hamburgers out of a can, packed in lard and watching gun ships dropping parachuted flares and strafing the ground on the other side of the bay. Every sixth round was a tracer and it was quite a show. Like fourth of July every night. Dave said he was in transit and asked if he could stay in my hooch with me for a while.
He slept under my cot and it wasn’t long before people started talking. “Who was that guy?” “Where’s he supposed to be?” You didn’t walk around a war zone without a function. Didn’t happen. Dave drew a lot of attention to himself. He wore sergeant stripes, airborne wings and sported a combat infantry badge. He was also the first guy I ever knew personally that had lumps on his arms and chest called muscles.
As the TET offensive had yet to commence, things were heating up around our base camp and my unit was readying itself for something, they knew shit was going to happen. Intelligence was pouring in from listening posts all around us. The scrutiny around Dave’s presence intensified and the flames were being fanned by a guy named Norton, who didn’t like Dave because when pressed about his airborne wings, Dave said he only “simulated” the jump. Norton, who sported airborne wings also, was furious, because you don’t get those wings unless you actually jump out of a plane. Things were heating up and I was running out of excuses.
This is Norton behind me, who had a big problem with Dave. Dave took this shot.
My first sergeant, who was looking to put me in Long Binh jail anyway, for using my truck to bring prostitutes onto the company area for my buddies, (another story) told me if he saw Dave again, he would have him arrested. He was eating our rations, using our showers and drinking our beer for more than a month. Me and Fitzy and Cliffy also were puzzled by Dave’s presence and his fuzzy answers. Dave had to un-ass this property. Fast.
The truth was, Dave was some type of clerk who typed his own orders and had a romantic notion of war and gallantry. He wasn’t going to be no clerk. Not in an opportunity like this to be a hero. The sergeant stripes, the wings and the combat infantry badge were all by design. I mean, no one could prevent you from slapping all those insignias on your uniform, not if you could type your own orders. So it was time to go.
When he jumped out of my truck at the Cam Rahn Bay airfield, we promised to write and stay in touch. He was heading to Saigon and that was the last I saw of him. Who knows what he had up his sleeve.
Fast forward six months and I had my ETS, (estimated time served) in Viet Nam, and was in a chow line at Fort Hood, Texas, when I opened a letter from my mother. There was a scandalous article in there from the Boston Globe about how Dave was killed in an ambush and his funeral cortege was charged for going through the Sumner Tunnel. He was getting a hero’s burial and this was an outrage. Needless to say, this upset everyone in the Hamilton family as well as all the surrounding communities.
Then it went national. My mother said the girl, as you will read below, went on Johnny Carson and things went south from there. There was a colonel on the set to represent the Army and when questions were asked about the circumstances surrounding Dave’s death came up, there were no good answers. It got awkward real fast and as Johnny Carson is well known for his quick thinking, he went to commercial and when they came back everyone was gone. End of story.
Here is what I found last night on the internet. I have been telling my wife this story for years and she said I should google it. This is what I truly believe happened, with caveats.
This is the true story about what happened to Brandi Perry and The Bubble Machine in VietNam July 1968.
SP4 David K.Hamilton U.S.Army who was assigned to the HQ Company, 1St. Logistics Command volunteered to drive a pickup truck with the band and Brandi (Paula Levine) to a camp for a performance when they were ambushed by Viet Cong forces on Highway 15 in the middle of a combat zone, according to Miss Levine, Hamilton, a Malden MA. native was covered with wounds when he threw himself over the actress and ordered the rest of the troupe to “play dead”. Two band members died and two survived, the survivors credited SP4 Hamilton with their survival by listening to his commands to stay still and play dead so the enemy wouldn’t kill them. The actress Paula Levine flew from Hollywood to Malden MA to attend the funeral and bring Hamilton’s belongings that he entrusted to her before he died. Hamilton was 19 years old, his name is etched on the VietNam Memorial Wall along with over 58,000 of our brave American heroes.
On July 5, 1968, the bus gets the band “Brandi Perry & The Bubble Machine”, which is carelessly traveling without military protection, in South Vietnam on the way to Vung Tau in an ambush, either by troops of the Viet Cong or the South Vietnamese army. The drummer and keyboard player Phil Willis + Kurt Pill, both only 17 years old, are killed, the bassist and vocalist Jack Bone + Paula “Brandi Perry,” Levine are injured more or less difficult.
“Brandi Perry & The Bubble Machine” are also the subject of the documentary “Entertaining Vietnam” by Mara Wallis about musicians who attended the American troops in Vietnam.
Note the word, “carelessly” in the story. Somehow Dave had recreated himself again, strapped on a .45 and volunteered to drive the band around. Amazing how he could pull these things off. The crush on the girl singer was pure David Hamilton.
So, the way I heard it, and why there was so much confusion and lingering questions was that when Dave and the band came up to a road block, manned by South Vietnamese soldiers, they were told it wasn’t safe to travel at night and there had been fire fights recently on Highway 15. Dave told them he needed to get the band to their next destination and he would handle it. As they were proceeding along in the dark they took a bullet to the windshield. This doesn’t sound likely, but Dave supposedly got out of the truck and was yelling in the darkness that they were Americans and not to shoot.
It was then that David started taking rounds to his body. His profile says it was a grenade but that’s not true, and I believe it was South Vietnamese soldiers who shot him or he never would have gotten out of the truck like that.
Now, after taking all the rounds meant for that girl, he is mortally wounded and they fly him to Osaka, Japan, where they don’t expect him to last much longer as the marrow from one of his bones has entered his lungs. They call his mother in Malden and tell her to get on a plane if she wants to see her son before he passes.
I got this from her so I know it’s accurate. She makes the long flight, (I don’t know who paid for it) gets to the hospital where the staff is waiting. On the way in, they tell her to brace herself and rush her through the swinging doors where he is laying on his side with one leg elevated. I have no idea why, but that’s what his mother told me.
She rushes over to her dying child and cradles his head. He says, “Ma” and he’s gone. Just like that. Like he was waiting for her. Her handsome, loving son was gone forever. I can’t imagine what the trip home was like. My heart breaks for her.
Now, with regard to the Army and David’s situation, there are tons of questions. How did this happen? Who was he assigned to? Who authorized him to travel with the band? Where are his orders for sergeant, his airborne status? It’s a mess. The Army has no answers and Mrs. Hamilton who had been in touch with my mother and trading photos is wanting to talk to me when I get home.
I am avoiding her at all costs. She’s gonna ask me questions I don’t want to answer. But she keeps calling. What I don’t know, is somehow she is connected, if you know what I mean. I am home under a month and shooting pool at the Day St. Bowling Alley when these two goons walk in and approach me as I’m going to take a shot. They must have seen a photo because they just walked up to me and said “let’s go,” like they knew me.
I am in the back seat of a big car smoking a cigarette and no one is talking but for some reason, I know where I’m going because we cross over the Malden line. The fact that someone has to come and get me let’s me know this might not be a pleasurable experience. And it wasn’t.
When I come through the front door and into the living room, I see Mrs. Hamilton and about a dozen other people gathered around her and I get a very chilly reception. The questions started coming at me fast and furious. I am stuttering and trying to think on my feet when one of the goons moves closer to me as if to prompt me to get to the point.
There is no way I’m gonna tell that poor lady what her son was up to. As a matter of fact, me, Fitzy and Cliffy were upset with Dave after he left for reasons I won’t mention here. After about two hours of being peppered with questions and accusations, screaming and yelling, I was summarily dismissed. No hugs. No love. Nothing.
When I get outside with the two goons, I started walking to their car, thinking they were going to take me back. The guy took my hand off the door handle and told me to “screw.” I got home very late that night.
That was it. It has been buried in my mind all these years except for once in a while when I would look at old Viet Nam photos. These two are all the photos I have of Dave and me as my mother gave Mrs. Hamilton everything she had when the news got out.
I wept so hard when I found that story on line. 19. Are you kidding me? He was a baby. 19. I can’t get over that fact now. It’s almost 50 years and I am crushed by this whole mess. 19. You can’t be serious, can you?
Here’s a video from documentary from a surviving musician. Notice he mentions “sergeant” and omits Dave’s heroic part in saving the girl’s life and more importantly never mentions Dave’s death. How pathetic.