David Rutgers - Private First Class
David Lynn Rutgers was born on November 19, 1946, in Holland, Michigan. The family later moved to Detroit, Des Moines and finally to Marshalltown, Iowa where his father took a job with Lennox Industries. The Rutgers had two children: David and a daughter, Nancy.
David was in 9th grade when the family arrived in Marshalltown. A classmate, Mike Himes, remembers him from Anson Junior High where they were both on the 9th grade football and track team. Mike said, “I knew him to be very intelligent guy and mature beyond his age. He was very quiet and reserved, an excellent student and well liked by his classmates.”
Terry Lampel became David’s friend when he first moved to Marshalltown and they remained close through their high school and community college years. Terry says, “He was a bean pole – a skinny kid! But he was a good guy with a sensitive heart, and a diligent student. We did what friends do – hung out together and had fun.” When they first met, David was building and driving go-carts – sheet metal, 4 wheels, one-inch off the ground. Terry got involved too and they’d take them to tracks and run them. Both David and Terry learned to drive that way.
David’s sister, Nancy, remembers David's love for cars and motorcycles. She said, “He had a propensity for tearing things apart and putting them back together. Before he got his Triumph he had a series of smaller bikes. With his Honda, the first thing he did was tear it apart to see how it worked. The problem arose when he went to put it together again and - in true male style - looked at the manual for the first time. It was in Japanese! What a disaster.”
At Marshalltown High School David played football and was in the letterman’s club. Although he was involved in team sports, he enjoyed “social” athletics more – like water skiing.
Terry also remembers that David talked his Dad into getting him a Plymouth Valiant, the year Chrysler revamped it into a pretty hot car. David’s Valiant was a red convertible with a V8 engine, 4 on the floor, Hearst transmission. He loved cars, and he loved THAT car in particular. He also had a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle without an electric starter. That meant the driver had to use his body weight to turn the engine over. The skinny, bean pole kid sometimes had a hard time getting the cycle going!
There were after school stops at Milt’s Drive-in, the A & W and Zeno’s Pizza – and of course, cruising the loop downtown. Word has it that David never lacked for girls. Terry laughed remembering the very fashionable madras shirt that David got from Penney’s, where he worked part time. Purchasers of madras shirts knew to wash them first to set the dye, but somehow David put his on while it was still wet and it bled onto whatever else he was wearing.
The Rutgers family attended the First Baptist Church and David loved singing in the choir, where he was a tenor. After choir practice, there were motorcycle rides out in to the country.
David graduated in 1964 from Marshalltown High School and attended Marshalltown Community College for two years, earning his AA degree. While at the community college, he sang in the chorus and participated on stage and behind the scenes in drama productions.
During that time he was involved in an especially memorable summer staging of The Sound of Music with the Marshalltown Community Theater and also did a good job of portraying the young man in The Glass Menagerie.
David had a lot of interests – math, drafting, maybe sort of leaning toward architecture. He started at Iowa State during the 1967 spring quarter and was here until the end of winter quarter 1968, majoring in Engineering Operations.
David Westen, a classmate of David’s, sent this note, “David was my friend in high school and a better friend during our college days. He and I had many conversations about the Vietnam War and had discussed joining the military on what was then called "The Buddy System" - where people could join with their friends and be assigned to the same military unit. I wanted to finish my sophomore year but David "became driven" to enter the military sooner than I wanted to and he went ahead of me and joined the Marine Corps."
When he left for the service, he was engaged to a Marshalltown girl that he had gotten to know at the junior college.
After basic training, David had leave and came home to visit. The “bean pole” had put on 30 pounds of muscle in training and looked fit – like a true Marine. He had definitely made the change from boy to man. He was proud of his training and was proud to serve.
David shipped to Vietnam in October 1968. He was a Field Artillery Fire Control man stationed on the front lines of the demilitarized zone.
On February 25, 1969 during a night time enemy invasion of Fire Support Base Russell in Quang Tri province, South Vietnam, PFC Rutgers was fatally hit. He had been in the Marines for 11 months, and in Vietnam for four. He was 22 years old.
Classmate Westen said, “I was stationed in Germany and received word that David had been killed in action. I learned that he was off duty but taking coffee to the "forgotten" troops in the Perimeter Guard Towers when the mortar got him. David was the kind of guy who was always thinking of others and how hard things were on them. He was always willing to help those who, in his mind, were forgotten, less fortunate than him, alone or troubled.”
His sister Nancy agrees, “Even as a kid he showed great compassion for people and his loyalty to friends. If he was your friend there was nothing that you could do to shake his resolve to stand by you. He had a great and good heart.
David’s parents made the decision to establish a memorial scholarship to support a South Vietnamese student at the Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois. They felt it was one way to honor his death in that far away place where he was defending the Vietnamese way of life. Gov. Robert Ray sent a letter saying, “There are many of us who wonder how we would endure a tragedy such as your family experiences on February 25. Your reaction should serve as an example for all of us and is an indication of God and the human spirit. I commend you and your many friends in the Marshalltown area for the generosity you have shown in providing the scholarship.”
David Westen says, “I don't know what would have happened if I had joined up with David – or if it would have changed anything. But I do know that as long as there is breath in me, I will hold his memory in my heart. He was a special person and the world, especially my life, is better for his having lived on this Earth. Thank You for remembering him.”
In addition to the national memorial, David is remembered on the Vietnam Memorial in Marshalltown.