Dana Zaleski was the second born son to Richard and Sylvia Zaleski on the 9th of September, 1949. The family lived in Brook Park, a suburb of Cleveland. Dana had an older brother David and two younger brothers, Douglas and Jimmy.
The majority of the extended family lived close to each other in suburbs of Cleveland, and the sixteen cousins and their parents stayed very close, gathering together for every birthday, holiday and numerous picnics.
Dana was a student at Midpark High School where he is remembered as being kind, soft spoken, and “loving to laugh.” Dana convinced his father to sign permission papers for him to enlist in the Marines at the age of seventeen. (Dana had a stuttering issue growing up that completely disappeared from day one in the Marine Corps.)
Dana entered basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island in August of 1967. He was assigned to the infantry as a MOS 0311-rifleman doing his advanced ITR training at San Raphael attached to the 2nd Infantry Training Regiment.
Dana arrived in Vietnam March 30 of 1968 joining the III MAF/CAG (Marine Amphibious Force/Combined Action Group.) (The CAG was unique in that its basic model combined a 12-13-man Marine squad and a Navy corpsman with a local Vietnamese militia platoon of older youth and elderly men to form a village defense platoon. This proved to be fairly successful and increased the range of coverage by the Marines in the region.)
Dana’s squad was assigned to the Quang Nam province, located in Central Vietnam, southwest of Da Nang. On February 5, 1969, PFC Dana “Ski” Zaleski was leading a patrol, walking through flooded rice paddies, when he stepped on and set off a hidden explosive “booby trap”. Dana was hit in the neck, specifically the brain stem, dying instantly. The Marine directly behind him absorbed most of the blast and took over two years to recover from his wounds.
On February 9th, the family received the official notification when two Marines arrived at his family home. Dana was laid to rest after Catholic Mass, on February 19th, in the Calvary cemetery.
Dana was just three weeks from rotating home at the age of 19. In his last letter home, he made one request, that when he returned home, he wanted to gather the entire family together and share his Vietnam “experience” just once, and then never speak of it again. (Dana’s brother David would also serve, as a member of the USAF in Thailand.)
PFC Dana L. “Ski” Zalenski was awarded the following: Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal 1968 & 1969, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, Navy Presidential Unit Citation.
The original group of sixteen cousins has dwindled down, leaving only eleven still living. Dana’s brothers David and Jimmy Zaleski, Deb Wickerham, Lou DeMarco, Patty Dunn, Teresa Rollen, Joe Spinelli and Judy Binder, Denise, Darlene and Laurie!
This Gold Star memorial of Dana was requested by his cousin Deb Wickerham. “I want him remembered. I keep a picture of him in my home. He was so proud to serve his country!”
The following memorials have been left on the Virtual Vietnam Wall-Wall of Faces:
Dear Dana, Mom and I will always hurt over you being taken too early. We think about you every single day. We know in our hearts that you are the bravest, most loving, and most righteous person we will ever know. You joined the Marines, no drafting needed; you knew what you wanted to do. God bless you always.
Love forever, Mom and Douglas (From his brother, Doug Zaleski)
MY BROTHER: We remember you. Love David Zaleski (brother)
SO KIND, SO BRAVE, AND SO MISSED…From a friend and high school classmate, I am so proud of and give thanks to Dana. He is missed and left us too soon. KAREN KUHNS FISHER
YOU WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED DANA: His name has been enshrined in the Midpark High School Hall of Fame VietNam Memorial in Middleburg Heights, Ohio.
Semper Fi Marine!