Memorial Day’s meaning sinks in: “Nothing about this is pretty. Nothing.”

Carol Bruce-Will (left) and her daughter, Stacey Bruce Nolan gaze at a photo of United States Marine Corps Pfc. Daniel “Danny” Bruce hanging in a memorial at the Disabled American Veterans Post 23 in Michigan City. Carol was married to Danny at the time he was killed in Vietnam. Stacey is the couple’s daughter. The memorial was dedicated March 1, 2019, the 50th anniversary of Danny’s death.

The photo of Danny Bruce includes an image of his Purple Heart.

Story and photos by Bob Wellinski

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

On March 1, 1969, while on a late night watch at Firebase Tomahawk, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, 18-year-old United States Marine Corps Private First Class Daniel “Danny” D. Bruce made an instinctive decision — an act that would see him lay down his life for his fellow soldiers.

It’s a Hollywood-esque story with real world ramifications.

It’s one of many real-life stories that confirm Memorial Day is more than a 3-day weekend with cookouts.

Just ask Pfc. Bruce’s widow, Carol Bruce-Will. “Memorial Day could be anything further from that.  That’s what I’d like people to understand about Memorial Day- I don’t think people really understand the sacrifice that everybody makes — what military families go through.”

Although 50 years have passed, Carol, who has since moved to Florida from Michigan City, admits she still feels anxiety thinking and talking about that painful moment when uniformed soldiers delivered the devastating news to her.

Danny and another soldier were on a late-night patrol when Vietcong soldiers, hidden in a nearby woods, tossed a satchel with explosives toward their bunkers. Danny shouted a warning for others to get down as he jumped from the bunkers and caught the satchel. He then held it tight to his chest and ran away from the bunkers, when it exploded.

Because of his heroic act, only one soldier suffered a leg injury.

Danny was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart. His name is etched into the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. He is also honored with memorials around his hometown of Michigan City.

“He saved three guys,” said Carol. “I’m sure their families were grateful that they came home, unlike Danny.”

But the surviving men themselves took on another battle.

“I’ve met a couple of those guys who carried a lot of guilt — survivor’s guilt. That was not a good experience for them, either,” Carol explained.

“Nothing about this is pretty. Nothing. There are heroes that come out of every tragedy, but it is nonetheless a tragedy,” Carol said. “People tend to forget it’s not just his life that was sacrificed, but those left behind to carry on. I don’t want to take away from anything he did.

“Am I proud of him? I was proud of him before he did any of that.”

This wasn’t the first selfless act he did.

When Danny was 16, he attempted to save a drowning boy. He swam to the struggling boy and stayed with him as a long as he could but had to give up as he grew tired and the boy was pulling him under as well.

Carol said people tend to dwell of the fact that he was a hero and he saved lives. “I think they forget about all the lives that paid a price for that, like Stacey, myself, and his family.”

The day after Danny’s death, Carol gave birth to their baby girl, Stacey Bruce Nolan, who now lives in Valparaiso.

Both ladies talked about everyday family activities that would never be. One thing Stacey said she really missed is the chance just to sit on her dad’s lap and enjoy father-daughter time.

Stacey is slowly putting the puzzle together of who her father was. “I didn’t know my dad, obviously. I get to know him through other people and other people’s memories. As people share their stories of him with me, I walk away with a little bit more of the puzzle filled in.”

But she is also connected to him in a deeper sense.

In the last letter Carol received from Danny came a request. It said that if they had a girl, he wanted her to be named Stacey Lynne. “I carry a piece of him around with me all the time. It’s pretty special.”

Both Carol and Stacey say that out of their hellish story comes faith.

As a young newlywed who had just lost her husband, Carol admits that she was “angry with God. It makes my heart hurt to say that now; makes me want to cry. I was angry at God, so it took me a while. But my faith strengthened as life went on.”

“I think of God as my father. You’re not always happy with your dad … with the way things work out or the decisions he makes,” explained Carol.

Carol and Stacey both stated that in his brief time in service, Danny was seeking God.

“I received a letter from him where he had talked to the chaplain over there (Vietnam) and that he wanted to start going to church, and he wanted me to start going to church. I believe he was looking to God for some guidance about starting a family, starting a life with a new wife and a child on the way. He wanted to be a good husband and a good dad,” said Carol.

Carol offers personal advice to those going through trying times.

“Cling to your faith. Don’t give up on God. There’s a purpose. As tough as it is, don’t turn your back on God.”

As for Danny, time hasn’t changed her feelings for her high school sweetheart.

“I loved him and I love him still. I look forward to that day when I’ll be able to see him again. I want a big hug and I want to be able to tell him about all his daughter and his grandchildren. I know he’ll be very, very proud.”

One Response to “Memorial Day’s meaning sinks in: “Nothing about this is pretty. Nothing.””

  1. Lisa Johnson

    May 28. 2019

    What a tragic but heartfelt story. Thank you for sharing.

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