As a child, Bucks County Prothonotary Coleen Christian loved looking at her dad’s shiny medals. Captain David A. Christian is, after all, known as the youngest, most decorated officer of the Vietnam War, which means there were a lot.
However, those tokens — especially his seven Purple Hearts — didn’t come without sacrifice.
“My father was shot, stabbed, burnt with Napalm over most of his body, received the last rites three times, at age 21 was 100 percent medically disabled and retired from the U.S. Army,” said Coleen. “At just 17 years old, my dad left Bucks County a strong, powerful 170-pound warrior. He returned a 90-pound cripple carried on a stretcher, unable to walk or use his right hand.”
When he was overseas, Christian never hesitated to put his fellow soldiers’ lives ahead of his own, even while suffering personal injuries. For his heroism and valor, this Levittown native was recently inducted into the National Military Officers Hall of Fame.
Celebrations were held for Christian throughout Bucks County, the first being in Bensalem Township at the Municipal Complex, 2400 Byberry Road, on May 2. After a police escort on I-95, Christian, seated next to his beloved wife Peggy, listened as his daughter, elected officials and more highlighted his selfless actions.
Col. John C. Church USMCR (Ret.), MCJROTC Bensalem High School, the master of ceremonies, painted a detailed picture of Christian’s heroism.
On Oct. 29, 1968, while in charge of the lead element of a recon-in-force mission 10 miles northwest of Quan Loi, his nine-man unit came under fire from grenades and other weapons. After killing three North Vietnamese, he and his comrades advanced again, but came under machine gun fire, with three wounded.
While trying to take down the enemy, Christian was simultaneously concerned with getting his casualties to safety. Even though he was hurt himself, he refused medical care in order to continue the attack.
“Although wounded again by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade, he did not permit himself to be treated until the other injured men had been evacuated,” said Church. “Christian’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit and the United States Army.”
Christian served two tours in Vietnam, incurring severe burns from Napalm during the second that covered 40 percent of his body and required seven years of surgeries for recovery. Once home, he didn’t let his injuries slow him down.
“While my dad fought for his health, he also became an advocate and he began fighting for veterans’ rights,” said Coleen. “Veterans’ rights for jobs, veterans’ rights to be part of our community and, most of all, veterans’ right to dignity.”
Part of Christian’s efforts involved helping to form Victor Six Health and Fitness Organization, a 12-week fitness program that’s free for veterans and designed to enhance wellness and eliminate suicide by addressing both their physical and mental wellbeing. According to Christian, almost everybody in the program has experienced something that causes them either emotional or physical pain.
Additionally, following medical retirement, Christian continued his civilian education, culminating in a Juris Doctorate at Rutgers University. He served as both National Commander and National Adjutant of the Legion of Valor.
His military awards include the following: Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, Bronze Star, Purple Hearts, Combat Infantryman Badge and the Parachutist Badge.
On hand at the celebration was Bensalem Township Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, who told Christian, “We’re so proud of you, and I don’t know what else to say to you except, we love you, and I mean that from all of our hearts here in Bensalem.”
Frank and Judy Cuda, of Christian’s childhood parish St. Michael the Archangel, sang the national anthem, and U.S. Air Force veteran Richard J. Viggiano, who was named the 2022 Pennsylvania Chaplain of the Year, provided a heartfelt invocation.
Bucks County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo shared more accomplishments of the father of four and grandfather of six: Christian authored legislation to help soldiers with PTSD, and assisted in raising $9 million in private donations for the construction and maintenance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The commissioner also proclaimed that May 2, 2023 is known as “Captain David Christian Day” throughout the County of Bucks.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick recalled how Christian’s run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-’80s was the first campaign he ever witnessed. Fitzpatrick was in the sixth grade at the time, and was so devastated by Christian’s loss to Peter H. Kostmayer, he stayed home from school the next day. Later in life, Fitzpatrick formed a bond with Christian, who sat with the congressman’s parents during the service for his late brother, Mike Fitzpatrick.
“You are a living legend amongst us,” said Fitzpatrick, who had Christian’s name, years of service and accomplishments entered into the Congressional Record, making him a permanent part of American history.
At the end of Christian’s welcome home celebration, he got up to say a few words. He fondly remembers sitting on the side of New Falls Road in Levittown and seeing a group of men marching past in “funny uniforms.” He asked his brother what kind of Boy Scouts they were, and he was informed that they were veterans.
It was in that moment that his future as a soldier was set.
He thanked his wife and everyone who has helped him fulfill his mission of improving the lives of America’s heroes. Christian said, “God gave me a gift. He put my body back together.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com