According to published reports, the world’s first professional civilian bomb squad was established by Sir Vivian Dering Majendie of the Royal Artillery in 1874. The following year he framed modern legislation for explosives control, and he is credited with pioneering many bomb disposal techniques. By the early 1900s, the New York Police Department established its first bomb squad.
Bomb disposal, the process of safely rendering explosive devices, has come a long way since the 1800s. In Vietnam, many soldiers were assigned to the task. And while the process is exceedingly more safe than in those early days, it’s still an extremely dangerous profession for military and civilians alike.
Even with expert training and years of experience, disarming or manually exploding an explosive device can instantly end the life of the person doing the work. The Army describes the soldiers as being their pre-eminent tactical and technical explosives experts, properly trained warriors who are equipped and integrated to attack, defeat and explode unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive devices and weapons of mass destruction.
Southern Nevada Army veteran David Tipton served in the Explosive Ordnance Section of the 3rd Ordnance Battalion in 1968 and 1969. He serves as chaplain of the National Explosive Ordnance Disposal Association and was instrumental in bringing its 2015 national convention to Las Vegas this summer.
Working with Tipton to put it all together was reunion commander Dr. Glenn Cobbs and Lou Weinberg, commander of the Vietnam Veterans explosive ordnance chapter. During the event, Weinberg was presented with a Distinguished Service Medal for exceptional service as commander. Approximately 100 veterans who served as explosive ordnance disposal personnel from various military services and their spouses arrived in Las Vegas at the Tuscany Suites to reconnect with old friends and establish new friendships with individuals who share a common bond.
The keynote speaker was veteran Denny Weddle, a retired Air Force officer who regaled the audience with several of his experiences during the Vietnam era. Serving in Washington, he explained how during negotiations to bring home prisoners of war from Hanoi, the White House assigned him the task of preparing an official welcome when many of them deplaned in the United States.
Tipton, who held the rank of Specialist 4 in his Army unit, is unassuming and doesn’t say a lot about his experiences. When I casually asked him if he personally disarmed many explosives, he looked at me with wide eyes and flashed a “are you kidding?” expression. His unit was stationed in a village called Long Bihn, but traversed Vietnam to wherever it was needed. But when asked about his service, he said “Of course, it was a dangerous assignment. But we had a dedicated cadre of soldiers who didn’t flinch when they were asked to do their jobs.”
Tipton survived the war with all his fingers and toes intact. He can be reached at email@example.com.
— Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a Purple Heart recipient. Every other Sunday he discusses veterans issues over several Lotus Broadcasting AM radio stations in Southern Nevada.