In 1967, an Austin man named Morris Dwaine New (“Dwaine”) was killed in an ambush on a bridge in Vietnam. The next fire station in Austin built after his death was the third (current) Station 8 in 1971.
A pecan tree was planted there in his memory and a memorial plaque installed next to the tree. Generations of firefighters have worked at 8’s through the years with the vast majority not knowing who Dwaine was. Nevertheless, the tree was always watered and taken care of, and an American flag was always present. When a flag became threadbare, blew away, or disappeared, another soon replaced it. No one knew the story behind the tree or the plaque, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
Earlier this week, an older man knocked on the door of Station 8 around noon, and asked if he could take some pictures of the tree and plaque. His name is Dick Palmquist, and he and his wife were visiting Austin. He explained that he and Dwaine had been close friends, and that he was with him on the bridge that day in Vietnam when Dwaine was killed. He walked to the tree, put his hand on it, and lowered his head for a moment. He then asked the crew if they would mind if his wife took a picture of all of them in front of the tree. Of course, they obliged.
After they took the pictures, they spent a few moments speaking with Mr. Palmquist and his wife. It turns out that Dwaine was not just an Austinite, but was also a firefighter at our Central station. Many of the firefighters he worked with were WWII and Korean War veterans who knew the horrors of war all too well. They urged Dwaine to rethink enlisting. In Mr. Palmquist’s words, “If you get drafted, well, all right then, but don’t volunteer!” Dwaine did anyway and you know what happened after that. We also learned that Mr. Palmquist has been corresponding with AFD Lt. Jerry Cohen for about a year; Jerry works at Station 8 and runs the Austin Fire Museum.
In another interesting twist, Dwaine’s wife, Vickie (who passed away last year) remarried seven years after Dwaine’s death—to the Austin Fire Department’s photographer, Firefighter Erwin Haddon, who served in that role from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, and was at the dedication of the tree and plaque to record the event. In October 2014, they celebrated 40 years of marriage.
We’re so grateful to Mr. Palmquist for taking the time to share his story and these photos with us; opening those old wounds can’t be easy, but we are honored and humbled that he did so. Special thanks to Battalion Chief Rob Bredahl, who got permission from Mr. Palmquist for us to post this and for sending along the details.
Postscript. I was very fortunate to have served with both Marines about which this article was written. We were together in Echo 2/1 in Vietnam 1966-67. I was their Platoon Commander for a short period of time. I rotated in March 1967, and the incident occurred two months later. I know the exact bridge where the incident happened, always a danger area. What the article does not mention was that LCpl Dick Palmquist was also wounded in the incident. As always in actions such this, there was a hero.
From Dick Palmquist himself, “What hasn’t been mentioned in all this is about a true HERO. Larry Hample shed his fighting gear and weapon, sat down with bullets flying everywhere, took his boots off, dove in the water, and help me out. He then jumped back in and tried to get Dwaine but couldn’t.”
Dick was eventually medically retired, and Larry Hample was awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V”. I see Dick and his bride every year at our company reunion in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Addition. Please read the comments below from Sgt Ed Benavidez who was the platoon sergeant at the time. He gives a good picture of the actual events from his diary. Ed’s diary has been extremely valuable to all of us at our annual reunions as we try to remember events, times, and places–all of which have helped so many close some old wounds. Ed was one of our squad leaders when I was the platoon commander of second platoon. He is one helluva Marine. He made a name for himself with the Galveston Police Department, retiring as a Captain.