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This Month in NCO History

Feb. 26, 1991 — Bravery among the tanks at Desert Storm

By Pablo Villa, NCO Journal

February 23, 2017

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Army Game

Sgt. Young Min Dillon possessed an undaunted spirit throughout his Army career.

That notion was no more evident than in the last conversation he had with his father.

“I told him before he went into battle, ‘… don’t be a point man in a war. The point man is in front of the battle all the time. You could get killed doing that,’” Larry Dillon told the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, in 2003.

His son’s reply was pointed and showed an awareness of the situation in which he was about to embark. It would eventually earn him a space in the annals of Army history as a recipient of the Silver Star.

“Well, if I get killed, I get killed,” the younger Dillon said.

Sgt. Dillon was part of Headquarters Battery, 82nd Field Artillery, 3rd Armored Division when it took part in the liberation of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. On Feb. 26, 1991, Dillon was part of a brigade on its third day of a march through southern Iraq. The unit was spearheading VII Corps’ vast effort to encircle Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards.

The few Iraqi fighters the brigade encountered were from second-string units who would waved white flags when spotting U.S. forces, according to a first-person account written by Lt. Col. M. Thomas Davis for the Washington Post in 1993. But the elite Republican Guards were determined to fight. On the third day of the march, the 3rd Armored Division found them.

After a few light skirmishes, the 2nd brigade of the 3rd AD became locked in combat with two brigades of the Guards’ Tawakalna Division. Dillon was at the front of the battle with one of the battalion’s fire-support teams. He was charged with accompanying the tank carrying the commander of the 4th Battalion, 8th Cavalry, and to direct artillery fire onto the targets he designated.

The battle with the Tawakalna went well into the night. Dillon stayed near the battalion commander’s tank, a precarious location given that the vehicle he was sharing with Capt. Perry Patton and their junior enlisted driver was an older model M113 armored personnel carrier, known as an APC or a track.

After nightfall, the brigade regrouped and its commander initiated a new plan to pierce through Iraqi lines. The tanks would attempt to penetrate the front about 15 miles east of their location in an operation dubbed Phase Line Bullet.

As the firing batteries moved into position, Dillon discovered his vehicle had a problem. One of the radios in the track had stopped working. Dillon decided it had to be replaced. He pulled the 30-pound device from the track, flagged down a humvee and asked its young driver to take him to the rear.

He arrived at the tank battalion’s operations center and acquired a replacement radio before jumping back into the humvee. By then the battle had erupted again. The young driver was unnerved by the tracer rounds zipping through the darkness around them and was unwilling to return to the front. Dillon grabbed another Soldier and ordered him to drive the vehicle back to the forward lines. In short order, the humvee pulled up behind an M1A1 Abrams tank as enemy fire lit up the night around it. Dillon exited the vehicle with the radio and told the driver to return to safety.

For several minutes, Dillon ran through darkness from tank to tank as he sought Patton and his track. Tank fire bellowed around him as he finally located it. He jumped inside, replaced the radio and climbed through the open top hatch to man the vehicle’s sole .50-caliber machine gun. By then, midnight was nearing and an artillery barrage from U.S. forces was about to begin.

American artillery unleashed wave after wave of rounds. Years later, Davis, recalled what transpired next in a May 30, 1993, editorial published in the Washington Post:

“From my track, about 400 yards to the rear, I observed our artillery preparation in awe. Behind me, our large guns and rocket launchers were firing feverishly. In the distance, their shells exploded, marking the invisible horizon with a long line of flame and smoke. Hearing enemy artillery rounds falling behind me, I turned to see if they were hitting any of our units. Satisfied that the Iraqis had not found the correct range … I turned forward just in time to observe a single shell detonating in the distance off to my left front, far short of the rounds that continued to rain on the enemy lines. Immediately I heard Capt. Patton yelling on the radio, confirming my fears that one of our rounds had fallen short.”

One of the rounds fired during the attack had malfunctioned. Its cargo of bomblets fell onto Dillon’s track, one of them landing just behind his right shoulder. Dillon’s flak jacket was shredded by the blast, leaving his shoulder and upper arm mangled and bloody. The Soldier fell back into the track, bleeding profusely.

Patton and the track’s driver pulled Dillon from the vehicle and immediately administered first aid. At one point, Dillon regained consciousness before he was loaded onto a medical vehicle. Unfortunately, he died before reaching the battalion surgeon.

Davis personally delivered an account of Dillon’s actions to his grieving family. He also expressed his appreciation for the young sergeant who would be posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.

“Sgt. Young Dillon did not have to replace his inoperative radio. No one asked him to,” Davis wrote. “He did not have to return to the front. No one would have ever known the difference had he stayed in the rear. But his loyalty and determination to do the right thing, to complete his mission, to stand at his post, compelled him to take action despite the obvious risks. He was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do, and it cost him and us his life.”

Dillon’s father echoed those sentiments to the Rocky Mountain News.

“My son — all Soldiers — they know what the risks and dangers are,” Larry Dillon said. “They know they’re risking their lives. … Even though there’s anger and sadness because they died in a conflict like this, they’re not dying in a useless cause, not dying in vain.”

Dillon is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. He was born Nov. 28, 1963, in Seoul, South Korea. His military home of record was Aurora, Colorado.