On February 21, 1945 Dennis joined his older siblings, Wilmetta, Wilford, Marcie and Jim, in the Bill and Delora Bruce family living in Arcadia, Ohio. He would later be joined by younger siblings Mona, Galen and Nadine.
They were a close-knit family, nurtured by mother Delora, who stayed at home to raise her family. Bill was a hard-working blue-collar man who spent his entire career working at Carbon Company in Fostoria. He also moonlighted in the evenings repairing televisions back in the day of cathode ray tubes. The family was active in the congregation of the Arcadia Church of God. Faith would have a huge influence over Butch in his life decisions.
Butch was a handsome, quiet young man, who excelled in academics, ranking in the top five students of his Arcadia High School 1963 graduating class. He had plans to attend to attend medical school and become a doctor. Butch was also filled with patriotism for his country, inspired partly by watching his older brother’s Wilford serve in the Army in the Korean War and Jim, in the Merchant Marines. In an essay Butch wrote in high school he stated, “I believe that freedom is worth defending.”
This led to him to put college on hold and he voluntarily enlisted in the US Army in 1964. At Ft. Bragg, Butch excelled in training, earning the elite Green Beret, receiving his parachute jump certification and finally completed the Army medic course. He was assigned to the 88th Airborne Division. His would be deployed for a year in San Domingo during the conflict there.
When he returned to the states, Butch decided to volunteer to go to Vietnam. He must have had some concerns about going and his welfare. Right before he deployed, he visited with his oldest sister Wilmetta to say good bye. She remembers his parting words, “I may not see you again.” His final Sunday in Arcadia, Butch attended his church where he asked the congregation to pray for him. The entire congregation surrounded him and prayed for his safety.
Butch joined the 2nd BN of the 101st Airborne Division as a medic on the Tuy Hoa Air Base in Vietnam. Wilmetta shared a letter dated March 11th 1966 in which he wrote,
“Pray for me and the other soldiers here…for God’s will to be done.”
On March 22nd, just weeks after his arrival in Vietnam, Butch was in a group of 40 soldiers tasked to a search and destroy mission. PFC Dennis “Butch” Bruce stepped on a hidden mine and died instantly.
The news was delivered to his mother at her home, and to his father at work by uniformed military personnel. His mother Delora was devastated as was his sister Marcie who had been very close to Butch. Marcie’s son Mike, then thirteen, recalls that day, “Mom was always in the kitchen when I got home from school. That day the kitchen was empty. I was confused and called out for her. It was then I heard her sobbing from her bedroom.”
The entire community of Arcadia rallied around the Bruce family. On the day Butch was laid to rest the church was packed. As the long funeral procession headed towards the Arcadia cemetery, it passed through the one red light in the town. Gene Reed, the owner of the only gas station in Arcadia, was able to turn the stop light to red and kept it so, until the mile-long caravan had passed by. The streets were lined with people standing and saluting as the hearse passed.
The US Army and the South Vietnamese government posthumously awarded PFC Dennis “Butch” Bruce the following, the Gallantry Cross with Palms, the Military Merit medal, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Butch is still an “active” member of the Bruce and now many other “extended” families. His memory is kept alive at huge family dinners, in fond conversations between his surviving siblings, his many nieces and nephews and by visiting his burial site regularly.
(Contributing to this story, gathered yesterday in his oldest sister Wilmetta’s living room in Findlay, were Wilmetta, now 88, her husband of 69 year, brother-in-law Bob Perkins (husband to Marcie, now deceased), niece Cheryl, nephew Mike Perkins and his wife Kathren.)