‘What a real hero looks like’
MICHIGAN CITY — Friday marked exactly 50 years since local hero Daniel Dean Bruce was killed in action in the Vietnam War on March 1, 1969.
A private first class in the U.S. Marine Corps, Bruce was on night watch when he caught an explosive charge, held it to his body, and fled his position – saving the lives of three of fellow Marines.
Bruce was only 18 years old when he made the ultimate sacrifice, the same age his twin granddaughters, Emma and Sophia Nolan, were on Friday when they unveiled the brand new memorial that honors Bruce at his namesake Disabled American Veterans Chapter 23 at 2301 Ohio St.
“We live in a culture that glorifies celebrity and notoriety to the point that it’s difficult to know what a true hero really looks like,” said Marine veteran Matt Siegmund. He educated everyone who packed the DAV hall on what each patch and emblem inside the display case signifies – including Bruce’s posthumously-awarded Medal of Honor.
“From everything I’ve read or been told about Danny, and considering the sacrifices that were made, when it comes to true heroes, you have to look no further than this display case,” Siegmund said. “Simply put, Danny was the real deal; it was hardwired into his DNA.”
Bruce’s sister, Karen Bruce Gallaher, agreed. She told the story of a time when her brother was 16 and attempted to save a drowning teen during a church outing at Pine Lake in La Porte. The boy didn’t make it, and Bruce struggled with that, she said.
Gallaher was only 14 when she answered the door on March 7, 1969, to find the Marines who would inform her family of her brother’s death.
“I feel so proud tonight,” she said Friday. “Because Danny was special. I think God saved him for this; God had better plans for him to save three more lives.”
Gallaher became emotional as she admired the new memorial.
“I miss him, and this just brings it all up,” she said, her voice cracking. “I couldn’t come down here for the longest time because there would be his picture.”
The new memorial includes a large photograph of Bruce, his Medal of Honor, various military patches and more – including soil samples from the place in Vietnam where he was killed.
All of it hangs in front of a giant American flag backdrop donated by Ray and Anna Miller, and is encased in glass donated by Dennis Schultz and Meyer Glass & Mirror Co.
“We put this together because Danny is a Medal of Honor recipient; he’s one of our nation’s heroes,” said U.S. Air Force veteran Steve Moore.
“And the memorial that was in here for him just didn’t seem enough. So, I thought about moving it and making it something better. And with it being the 50-year anniversary of his death – what a fitting time. As for the turnout tonight, well, the tears tell it all.”
Bruce’s daughter, Stacey Bruce Nolan, was born in Michigan City on March 2, 1969, just one day after her father was killed in Vietnam.
“As beautiful as this is, it doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Nolan said Friday. “The DAV has honored my father’s memory from Day 1 – and Michigan City, too. I’m proud to be from here, not just because of my dad, but because it’s a great place to grow up. And I love how they support and embrace their veterans.”
Nolan’s mother, Carol Bruce Will, was also in attendance.
“I can’t believe that after 50 years, people still remember,” she said. “It’s beautiful, and I’m very grateful. And my daughter’s grateful, and my grandchildren are very grateful, and I know that Danny would be proud.”
Will was only 18 when she gave birth to her daughter and found out days later that her husband had been killed.
“We were young and in love, and looking forward to the future,” Will said. “I don’t think I ever really considered the fact he wouldn’t come back. I was angry for a long time afterward, but I’ve come to terms with it now and I’m extremely proud of his sacrifice.”
Nolan added, “He volunteered, he was proud. Just days after he graduated from high school, he went down and enlisted. That’s just who he was – he believed in supporting his country, and in justice and in doing the right thing.”
Will commented on Friday’s ceremony and the support she’s felt from the community for the past 50 years.
“They’ve just always showed up, always,” she said. “Every Memorial Day, they’re there. He’s a hometown boy; and all these people here, they knew him. We went to school with them. They personally knew him and knew what a great guy he was. And when it happened, the whole town was devastated, just like I was.”
Although she never met her father, Nolan uses the stories she’s been told to set an example for her children.
“I always tell my girls – I have four daughters, and I always tell them when they get a little down on themselves: ‘You have a hero’s blood running through your veins. I don’t want to hear any crying or whimpering. Look at what your grandfather did when he was about your age. Suck it up. You come from good stock’.”
“And he would have been extremely proud of his daughter and his grandchildren,” Will said.