Bernstein, David Richard

David Richard Bernstein was born on April 14, 1979 in Mountain View, California to Richard and Gail Bernstein. He had two siblings. David lived with his family in Los Altos, California until 1982, when his father was transferred to Dallas, Texas. In Dallas, David started school and became active in sports, especially soccer.

In 1985, the family relocated to Austin, Texas where David spent most of his youth.  He excelled academically and was a participant in several gifted student programs. During summer vacations, David began to swim competitively and continued to do so for his high school team.

David became very active in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, and was elected to a position on the regional board of directors during his sophomore year in high school. He attended national summer camps and conventions in 1994 and 1995.

In the summer of 1995, David’s father was again transferred by the newly merged Lockheed Martin Corporation. David had just completed his sophomore year in high school, his sister was in college, and his brother was entering his senior year in high school. Only David accompanied his parents to their new home in Phoenixville , Pennsylvania.

In Phoenixville, David continued to swim competitively, for both the school and the local YMCA. He also played football. His coach and history teacher, Hank Coyne, remembers David as “well respected by his peers, the administration and fellow classmates.  He wasn’t flashy and had a quiet kind of confidence.” ' Mathematics teacher Sandra Parrish, said David was a “wonderful example to all students at the high school…Although he was only at the high school for two years, he left a good impression on our community.  He left his mark.”   David’s physics teacher, Carol Mandik wrote, “he was a very exceptional student, not only in the classroom but also in his personal life….I remember his resolve, his dedication to service and his wonderful smile.”

Dave was popular with his fellow students for his achievements, modesty, and friendship. Adam Sharp commented that David was “real laid back.  You could go to him if you needed anything from notes to a ride home.” Robyn Rosen recalled, “I will always remember Dave for his dedication, his smile that could light up a room, his ability to make you feel special and most of all for the wonderful person that he was.” Classmate Michael Parrish said “When you got to know him you knew he was going to go a long way.  He had both athletic and mental capabilities and that’s very rare.”

David was elected to membership in the National Honor Society and became an officer of that organization during his senior year. He also participated in several other clubs and academic competitions while maintaining a straight “A” academic grade average.

David graduated first in his class from the Phoenixville Area High School in 1997.  He was awarded a scholarship from Centocor, Inc. and received nominations to both the United States Military and Naval Academies.

David accepted the nomination to the US Military Academy at West Point and entered as a plebe in June,1997.  He believed that he would receive an outstanding education, combining both academic and physical challenges, and have the opportunity to serve his country as an officer in the US Army.

During his four years at West Point, David:       
  • excelled in academics, athletics, and military science-graduating fifth in the class of 2001
  • graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering
  • was nominated by the Academy for a Rhodes Scholarship
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  • member of the swim team, lettering each year
  • selected to be an exchange student at the US Air Force Academy for the first semester of his junior year
  • qualified as a combat diver
  • became airborne qualified
  • participated in triathlon competitions
  • member of the brigade staff during the last semester of his senior year 
David graduated from West Point on June 2, 2001 and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. He then served for nearly a year on temporary duty at Fort Benning , Georgia. It was at Fort Benning that David completed the Infantry Officers Basic Course and the Ranger Qualification Course. 1st Lieutenant Matt Mason remembers of David: “In Ranger School, he was the one everybody hoped was their Ranger buddy, because he consistently shouldered more than his share of  the task. We could trust him to carry us to the next objective or pick us up when we couldn’t go another step. Given his accomplishments and paramount abilities, he always remained humble, nonchalant, and willing to lend a helping hand.  He was a scholar, athlete, and dedicated friend to all.”
  • was a member of the swim team, lettering each year
  • was selected to be an exchange student at the US Air Force Academy for the first semester of his junior year
  • qualified as a combat diver
  • became airborne qualified
  • participated in triathlon competitions
  • was a member of the brigade staff during the last semester of his senior year 
David graduated from West Point on June 2, 2001 and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. He then served for nearly a year on temporary duty at Fort Benning , Georgia. It was at Fort Benning that David completed the Infantry Officers Basic Course and the Ranger Qualification Course. 1st Lieutenant Matt Mason remembers of David: “In Ranger School, he was the one everybody hoped was their Ranger buddy, because he consistently shouldered more than his share of  the task. We could trust him to carry us to the next objective or pick us up when we couldn’t go another step. Given his accomplishments and paramount abilities, he always remained humble, nonchalant, and willing to lend a helping hand.  He was a scholar, athlete, and dedicated friend to all.”

In May, 2002, David reported to his permanent duty station in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned as the platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. 

David was serving with the unit at the outbreak of the war in Iraq in March 2003. He was part of an airborne combat assault carried out by 1,000 soldiers of the 173rd, who parachuted into northern Iraq in the early days of the war to secure an airbase and oil facilities around Kirkuk.

David continued to serve as platoon leader, leading his 30-50 man unit on various combat missions until August 2003 when he was assigned to be the Executive Officer of C Company.

David served with distinction in Iraq and was well liked and respected by both his subordinates and superiors. He was affectionately known as “Super Dave” by his men and the senior officers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

On the night of October 18th, 2003, David was traveling in the third vehicle of a three vehicle convoy returning to their base of operations. While they were enroute, the base came under rocket attack. His convoy was the closest force to the location of the rocket launchers, and it was ordered to investigate and to stop the attack.

As the convoy neared the suspected location of the rocket launchers, it came under attack by small arms fire. The driver of David’s Humvee lost control, resulting in it crashing into an embankment. The Humvee gunner was killed by gunfire and his assistant was immobilized. Their driver was thrown out of the vehicle and was trapped under the wheels when the Humvee rolled back over him.

David exited the right side of the vehicle firing his weapon at the attackers and was immediately hit in the upper thigh by a bullet. He continued around the back of the vehicle and attempted five times to climb in behind the steering wheel. His fifth attempt was successful and he was able to move the Humvee off the driver and then pull him out from under the vehicle. At that point, David collapsed from loss of blood as the bullet had severed his femoral artery. The rest of the convoy returned and the enemy retreated.  A medical helicopter was called in, but David never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital.


1st Lieutenant David Richard Bernstein was Killed In Action on October 18, 2003. David was buried on Friday, October 31, 2003 at West Point with Full Military Honors. David was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his action on October 18th. 

His Citation reads:

For exceptionally valorous achievement while on patrol in Qutash, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  First Lieutenant Bernstein, under extreme enemy fire, risked his life in an effort to rescue one of his Soldiers.  Although suffering from a mortal wound, First Lieutenant Bernstein extracted the driver to safety, directed the security of his objective and repulsed the enemy forces before succumbing to his wounds.  His actions are in keeping the finest tradition of military service and reflect distinct credit upon himself, the 4th Infantry Division, Combined Joint Task Force Seven and the United States Army.
David was also awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as well as the Combat Jump Star on his airborne wings, and Combat Infantry Badge.  The Army, continuing to recognize David’s courage, named a forward operating base in Iraq in his honor.

In May, 2002, David reported to his permanent duty station in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned as the platoon leader of the 2nd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. 

David was serving with the unit at the outbreak of the war in Iraq in March 2003. He was part of an airborne combat assault carried out by 1,000 soldiers of the 173rd, who parachuted into northern Iraq in the early days of the war to secure an airbase and oil facilities around Kirkuk.

David continued to serve as platoon leader, leading his 30-50 man unit on various combat missions until August 2003 when he was assigned to be the Executive Officer of C Company.nor.

David (left) with fellow soldiers

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David served with distinction in Iraq and was well liked and respected by both his subordinates and superiors. He was affectionately known as “Super Dave” by his men and the senior officers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

On the night of October 18th, 2003, David was traveling in the third vehicle of a three vehicle convoy returning to their base of operations. While they were enroute, the base came under rocket attack. His convoy was the closest force to the location of the rocket launchers, and it was ordered to investigate and to stop the attack.

As the convoy neared the suspected location of the rocket launchers, it came under attack by small arms fire. The driver of David’s Humvee lost control, resulting in it crashing into an embankment. The Humvee gunner was killed by gunfire and his assistant was immobilized. Their driver was thrown out of the vehicle and was trapped under the wheels when the Humvee rolled back over him.

David exited the right side of the vehicle firing his weapon at the attackers and was immediately hit in the upper thigh by a bullet. He continued around the back of the vehicle and attempted five times to climb in behind the steering wheel. His fifth attempt was successful and he was able to move the Humvee off the driver and then pull him out from under the vehicle. At that point, David collapsed from loss of blood as the bullet had severed his femoral artery. The rest of the convoy returned and the enemy retreated.  A medical helicopter was called in, but David never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital.


1st Lieutenant David Richard Bernstein was Killed In Action on October 18, 2003. David was buried on Friday, October 31, 2003 at West Point with Full Military Honors. David was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his action on October 18th. 

His Citation reads:

For exceptionally valorous achievement while on patrol in Qutash, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  First Lieutenant Bernstein, under extreme enemy fire, risked his life in an effort to rescue one of his Soldiers.  Although suffering from a mortal wound, First Lieutenant Bernstein extracted the driver to safety, directed the security of his objective and repulsed the enemy forces before succumbing to his wounds.  His actions are in keeping the finest tradition of military service and reflect distinct credit upon himself, the 4th Infantry Division, Combined Joint Task Force Seven and the United States Army.
David was also awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as well as the Combat Jump Star on his airborne wings, and Combat Infantry Badge.  The Army, continuing to recognize David’s courage, named a forward operating base in Iraq in his ho

David (left) and Platoon Sgt Frank Lauer

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Sergeant First Class Frank Lauer’s Eulogy at David’s Memorial Service in Vicenza, Italy:

Greater love hath no man than this, than a man who lays down his life for his friends.” - 
John 15:13.

I’ve always thought that this was a verse appropriate for a soldier. This was indeed the verse that describes Lt. Bernstein. This was true about his life also. Lt. Bernstein devoted his life to serving his country and his soldiers. He spent an inordinate amount of time ensuring that his soldiers were trained and prepared for war. He believed and trusted his Non-commissioned Officers, and had full faith and confidence in his soldiers. The respect that he afforded his men was returned to him in untold measures. His soldiers would do anything for him, they would never let him down and his NCOs would never let him fail.
I’ve seen a lot of Platoon leaders in my career. Most are received as green Lieutenants that have these ideas that they think are original and are going to change the world. Lt. Bernstein was different. He didn’t act green, he had some very original ideas and he did change the world. He changed the world of everyone around him, those that knew him and those who didn’t.

All infantry soldiers have Lieutenants, but how many of them are proud to say, “That’s my Platoon Leader”? I can tell you no matter what time of day, no matter how tired the platoon was from a twelve-mile road march, a pool PT session that was more like drowning PT, or from an all night mission in Iraq… the soldiers of 2nd Platoon Bravo Company were always proud when they said, That’s my Platoon Leader.

Lt. Bernstein was not only a great leader, he was a great mentor, and a great friend for his soldiers. I was Lt. Bernstein’s Platoon Sergeant for 15 months, but more importantly, I’m proud to say, Lt. Bernstein was my Platoon Leader. I would not trade our friendship for anything.

The Phoenixville Area School District dedicated a Wall of Fame with David as its first inductee on  May 25, 2004.
David’s family established the David R. Bernstein Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Phoenixville Area High School graduates named as class valedictorians.

His family also established, as a perpetual tribute, the 1st Lieutenant David R. Bernstein Memorial Award to be given to those in each graduating class of the United States Military Academy who achieve the fifth highest class standing, David’s standing in 2001.

Congressman Curt Weldon read into the Congressional minutes a tribute to David on October 30, 2003.
 
Read more posted messages honoring David:

Credits

   
Story written by: Richard and Gail Bernstein
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