In the summer of 1960, the family of Leo and Ruth Reeve were branding livestock on the Arizona Strip at a place called Cane Beds, just south of Colorado City and west of the Kaibab Indian Reservation. Ruth heard a horse coming at a gallop, and looked up to see David, age 16, coming down the dirt road, a bobcat at the end of his lasso. She yelled for him to stop and let it go; he only laughed as he raced past.
That image of the strong young outdoorsman, going his own way, maybe a little reckless on occasion, has become legendary in his family.
David Leo Reeve was born 20 April 1944, in Cedar City, Utah, to Leo and Ora Hirschi Reeve. He grew up in Hurricane, living and working on the family ranch in Washington County. He almost didn’t get to know his father – when David was less than a year old, his father was seriously wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, but Leo did come home, to raise David, his older brother, and a sister born when David was 2.
David was baptized four days past his eighth birthday. Although these images are probably too small to see well in this setting, they indicate that David was active in his ward’s MIA when he was scout and Explorer age.
According to Tom Hirschi of Hurricane, “David was always picked first for teams, for activities. Everyone wanted David on their side. The fellas wanted to be around him, the women loved him, and I got to be his best friend.” That seems a credible memory – his high school graduation picture above shows what a good looking young man he was; and in addition to enjoying tennis, David was an All-State football halfback and an All-Region basketball guard in high school.
David’s mother died when he was just 14; a year later, Leo Reeve married Ruth, who became David’s second mother, and one of those with the strongest memories of David now that his father, brother and sister are gone. She was the one who saw him through to high school graduation, who watched him grow into a hardworking young man – one who registered his own livestock brand, independent from his father’s – and who saw him off for work with the Utah Highway Department in Green River, and his marriage to Judy Ann in May, 1965.
Just four months after his wedding, David was called for active service in the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Ord, California, for basic training. Years of outdoor work and recreation had already made an expert marksman of the young man, so he was shipped out to Vietnam ahead of his basic training company, in December. When they got news of his departure date, David’s father and brother drove down to San Diego to give David a blessing. Although Leo didn’t tell Ruth until later, Leo received a distinct impression while giving that blessing that it was the last time he would see his son alive. For the next month, he went through every day wondering if that would be the day he received word of his son’s death.
David became a member of the 2nd Platoon, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. Just before midnight on 21 January 1966 – the Chinese New Year – 400 helicopters of the 1st Cavalry lifted off the ground to initiate a new offensive (code named “Operation Masher”) against the North Vietnamese; one pilot broadcast to the rest that this was the Year of the Horse, and the cavalry was on its way.
The 1st Division, David Reeve among them, was assigned on 25 January to take the area around Bong Son, a site about 40 miles north of Saigon (later renamed Ho Chi Minh City). It was a cold week, with rain, low clouds, and wind interfering with movements. On 27 January, SSgt. Gilbert L. Meyers, photographer, happened to catch an image of David Reeve, eyes alert, strong hands gripping his weapon.
Two days later, on 29 January 1966, David was killed in action.
Ruth Reeve remembers the evening when the news came. “When we got the word, it was a Sunday evening about 5 o’clock. We were at dad and mom Reeve’s house for dinner. The military sent the telegram to our bishop, Bishop Stirling. He knocked and called Leo outside and gave him the telegram. He came back in and told us. We were all so sad. Leo was tearful.”
Because Leo Reeve was the stake president in Hurricane, he and Ruth had often hosted church leaders in their home who had come for stake conference and other meetings. Among the condolence messages received from church leaders were these:
17 Feb 1966
President Leo Reeve
Zion Park Stake
Dear President Reeve,
Word has come to us that you have suffered sadness at the death of your son in Vietnam. Our hearts go out to you and please be assured we are praying for you. It must be a very sad experience to go through and certainly you have had many problems and you have stood up so bravely under them.
Please be assured of our kindest wishes always and especially now in your grief.
With kindest wishes.
SPENCER W. KIMBALL
February 3, 1966
Dear President Reeve,
I was shocked and saddened to read of the death of your son in Vietnam. Our hearts reach out to you and his wife in this hour of great sorrow. How forlorn and how empty would life be under such circumstances without the comfort and the assurance of the gospel.
While his death is tragic, there is a measure of solace in the knowledge that he was not captured and abused. I am satisfied that a living hell would have been worse than the peace of heaven. There is comfort and assurance and peace in the declaration of the Lord, that they “who die in me, shall not taste death, for it shall be sweet unto them.”
May the peace of heaven and the assurance of testimony bless and sustain his beloved companion and you, his family, is a sincere prayer of,
GORDON B. HINCKLEY
The summer following his death, David was awarded a Bronze Star for “bravery in exposing himself to enemy fire to aid his comrades in heavy fighting.” That award, and his purple heart, were presented to David’s young widow, Judy Ann, while his parents looked on.
A few years ago, the editor of a gun magazine, needing an illustration for an article on the M16 rifle, pulled a photo from its archives, one released by the U.S. Army in January, 1967. It was a striking black and white photo of a young soldier, and the editor, wondering whether the soldier had survived the war, Googled the name printed on the back – David Leo Reeve, of Hurricane, Utah. Discovering that he had not survived, and noting that the photo had been taken only two days before the soldier’s death, the editor realized it was probably the last photo ever taken of the young man, and he wondered whether the family knew about it.
A researcher with the magazine discovered that David had been buried in Hurricane, and called the cemetery there, a representative of which soon put the researcher in touch with Tom Hirschi, the town’s mayor and David’s old friend. Tom gave the researcher the name and number of David’s younger brother – a man born after David’s death. That brother was Paul Reeve, professor of history at the University of Utah, and a friend of Keepapitchinin. Paul confirmed that this was a photograph which the Reeve family did not have, and the magazine’s editor kindly sent a scan.
A week or two ago, Jan Scruggs, the Vietnam veteran most responsible for the building of “The Wall,” the monument in Washington, D.C. listing the names of more than 58,000 American casualties of that war – including David Leo Reeve – was in Salt Lake, looking for support for a new project. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund would like to go beyond the names on the Wall. They would like to gather the photographs and stories that go with the names, so that these soldiers and nurses and other personnel will be remembered by more than just their names. Scruggs asked Utahns to find pictures of the 207 Utah veterans whose photos have not yet been located; he also hopes the Church can help find that material for 285 fallen soldiers from throughout the country, who identified themselves as Latter-day Saints.
Do you know someone who died in the Vietnam War? Can you help keep that man’s memory alive by sending his picture and a short life sketch to the VVMF?