ST. GEORGE, Utah – For Vietnam War veteran Arnold Breitenbach, who was wounded during his 12-month tour of duty in the country, 1969 continues to be an unlucky number.
Breitenbach is a Purple Heart recipient who served as a gunner on an armored personnel carrier, but when he tried to get a personalized license plate two years ago that would pay tribute to his time in the military, the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles denied his request.
The reason? Breitenbach sought a license plate with the Purple Heart logo and the letters CIB-69, representing the Combat Infantryman's Badge he received and the year he was awarded the Purple Heart.
But the DMV has a specific rule banning the number 69, with a few exceptions that don't include birth years or years of military service.
"While your intended meaning behind the requested plate, CIB-69, is honorable, the Division of Motor Vehicles is required to follow Utah law when approving personalized plates," a letter from DMV Audit Manager Sherri Murray stated in November 2013.
Arnold Breitenbach poses in front of the armored personnel carrier in which he was injured by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade during the Vietnam War in 1969.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Arnold Breitenbach
"Administrative Rule R873-22M-34 is clear regarding the use of '69' on personalized plates – '69' formats are prohibited unless used in a combination with the vehicle make, model, style, type, or commonly used or readily understood abbreviations of those terms," the letter states.
The number 69 is similarly banned from personalized plates throughout the United States because of its sexual slang connotations, although not everyone in Southern Utah may recognize that type of terminology.
Ed Christy, a SunRiver resident who lives a few blocks away from Breitenbach, said he also applied for a personalized Purple Heart license plate some years ago with the letters CIB 69, but settled for CIB 70 when he learned his first choice was banned.
"I think it is kind of ridiculous," Christy said Friday. "I was totally surprised."
A DMV spokesman did not respond to The Spectrum's request for comment Friday.
Breitenbach said he doesn't think everyone has such a dirty mind that they would be offended. He appealed, hoping to win because of the DMV's exceptions for vehicle make and model years.
Arnold Breitenbach's mementos of military service include the Purple Heart medal at right. Breitenbach sought an exemption to use the number 69 – representing the year he was injured in Vietnam – on a car's license plate, but he was denied under state law.
Photo Credit: Kevin Jenkins / The Spectrum & Daily News
"I figured in today's day and age, when President (Bill) Clinton can have all that stuff going on in the Oval Office and he says that what he did wasn't really sex with that woman, (it's odd) to be turned down because this is so offensive to the citizens of Utah," Breitenbach said.
"They've got Viagra (ads) all over the place," he said. "I can't imagine myself sitting on the sofa with my parents when I was a little kid having something like that on TV. In today's day and age, it seems like everything is out in the open."
Breitenbach wrote to Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Don Ipson asking for help with his cause, but they referred him to the established appeals process. In January, his appeal was denied.
Breitenbach decided against a further appeal, figuring it wasn't worth the time and expense, he said. He got a Purple Heart license plate, without the infantry designation.
"It gets to a point where you've got to say, 'Enough is enough,' Christy agreed.
Although Christy and Breitenbach didn't know each other during the war, both were Army men who served in the I Corps during the same period of time.
Breitenbach was attached to the same infantry unit that had been involved in the My Lai massacre a year earlier. He was injured when Vietnamese soldiers fired rocket-propelled grenades at his APC while he was in the gun turret.
The first whizzed by his head so close he felt the heat from it. A second RPG struck his armored vehicle square in the front, knocking Breitenbach senseless.
He was temporarily blinded, but mostly unscathed. His Purple Heart came as a result of damage to his hearing, he said.
Christy was injured while working as a scout dog handler ahead of his unit.
Although the dog had been trained to find booby traps – known nowadays as improvised explosive devices – it was specializing in ferreting out people, and both of them were injured when they triggered an explosive, Christy said.
"That put me out of the action," Christy said, adding that the dog was back in service shortly afterward, despite losing an eye.