Mike joined the U.S. Army in July 1965. Basic training was in Fort Polk, LA Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk Jump School at Fort Benning, GA. 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC in 1966. Was there a year and then was levied to Vietnam in 1967. He left Fort Lewis, WA to Anchorage, AK to Yakoda, Japan then to Cam Ranh Bay. He reported to the 109th AES. His group split, with his group going to Da Nang to drop air supplies and ammunition to the ground troops.
He made two jumps to recover equipment. Of the two jumps, the second jump was 17 miles north of Saigon in Ben Hoa and this jump landed him in the hospital for 30 days. He is well prepared to jump from any aircraft but this one was crippled and it was only 500 feet from the ground when he jumped. Stuff like that really plays hell with ankles and knees. He and four others from the 109th were deployed to Khe Sanh. The 3rd Marine Division was surrounded and these five men dropped approximately 250 tons of equipment a day to the Marines.
Here are a few of his remembrances. Click on any picture to read a different story.
In the summer of 1967, upon arriving at Cam Ranh Bay, beautiful was not the word that ran through my mind. Fearsome humidity and the reality that my sweat glands would be working overtime for the next 12 months ran through my mind as I stepped into what felt like a blast furnace. Our Northwest Orient Airliner had delivered us from the 'world' and into the 'Nam'.
Our stay in Cam Ranh was short as our company divided in two: the southern 109th stayed in Cam Ranh and the northern 109th went to Da Nang. I went to Da Nang where we learned the true meaning of "monsoon". Sweating in a shower or in a downpour became a reality. I can't remember being dry during my year in Vietnam.
In Da Nang we worked on the flight line doing our company's mission: Supply 'Nam' by air. We supplied everything from blankets to concertina wire to artillery shells, lumber and cement.
Around this time, General Diap decided that Khe Sanh suited his fancy. But the 3rd Marines and Special Forces weren't ready to leave. The runway at Khe Sanh had been traumatized and airplane activity was rare. The sure way into and out of the base was helicopter. The siege of Khe Sanh had begun. General William Westmoreland tasked the 109th to supply the base by air.
Arriving by helicopter from Dong Ha, my first step onto P S P (perforated steel planking, I chillingly realized that this place defined war. My first impression was one of eeriness, feeling threatened, death. Never mind the sound of orders being shouted to pit crews to launch mortars, rockets and kitchen sinks. The red clay wasn't the only thing red. "Incoming" became one of the often-used words.
Besides the runway, the drop zone was outside the perimeter. More often than not, territorial disputes arose. Supplies and ordinance that carried away from the DZ were quickly called in and aircraft (usually F-4s) from offshore would be dispatched. We usually had air cover or available air cover on call. They were great.
During the entire siege, the 109th delivered 250 tons of equipment per day. Whatever we couldn't recover we destroyed. Rightly so, the slogan of the 109th is 'the world is our drop zone'.
Dick Heckathorn, USN pilot, and I went to Pax River, Md. for three months. In our hearts, we were of one purpose: oysters. Our true agenda? Certifying Lockheed's S-3A Viking for USN carrier suitability.
Dick had many friends still in the Navy we did our best to see them while there in Maryland, one of whom was a POW. Some tend to say that he was fortunate that it was only for a short time. Most of us say, short time, long time, who cares? He was a POW and exposed to deprivation and physical abuse. Dick's friend reflected during dinner that while in captivity one of the downed Navy airmen was tortured and then crucified, much to the delight of the Viet Cong. This Navy pilot still has nightmares.
While I was in Khe Sanh, the stories about the Viet Cong and the NVA became known to us on the ground. Weather was a critical factor in the dropping of critical equipment. The drop zone in Khe Sanh was outside the firebase itself. Frequent rivalry for possession was in question. Equipped with ground-to-air radios and flares to give pilots the ok to drop supplies (usually from only 500 feet), ground fire was normally intense. On the occasion that supplies landed long of the DZ, we were instructed to inform the overhead USN from the 7th Fleet (who over flew us) to come in and destroy such ordnance and supplies. In radio contact, we, and often it was I, gave grid coordinates to over flyers to '. . . give me some heat (napalm)!' I was always remember the smell of napalm mixed with the smell of burning flesh . . . a sickening smell and yet the smell of relief.
Cordite, napalm, jet fuel, body odor, and rancid "C" rations from WWII became daily fare. As a rigger paratrooper in charge of recovering whatever was serviceable after a drop, I thought the drop zone looked like 40 Sunday yard sales going on at the same time. This all lent an air of chaos to the drop zone. Equipment and parachutes were everywhere. We salvaged only what we could. Recovering ammunition was critical (palettes of 105 Howitzer shells with the last palette had the fuses ('where in the fuck was that package?').
Working the drop zone with the Marines was a comical trip. They were using Korean and WWII grenades and eating Civil War rations. The resupply of 'after-Korea rations and smooth-shaped grenades (pineapple grandes was normal USMC issue) was like experiencing young children unwrapping Christmas or birthday presents. Though tough, these Marines who were younger than my 21 years, became teary at the descent of resupply parachutes. Many of them thought the "K" rations were the smorgasbord gift from the CNO and "C" rations were manna.
On a tangent with my mind here . . . loading aircraft at Cam Ranh Bay for aerial delivery . . . we were supplying the entire region. While we were on the flight line, the AF crew chief asked me if I wanted breakfast (it was 04:30 hours). Of course I did. Off to the flight line chow hall which as open 24/7. I picked up a tray and the cook asked 'eggs?' I asked, '. . . are those the white things with the yellow in the middle?' He retorted, 'You're in the Army aren't you? How about a steak with that?' The expression on my face they say was classic. At the same moment, a senior maintenance sergeant took offence to the absence of milk with for his cereal. The senior cook informed him that the flight from the P.I. had to divert to Japan to get plasma.
The incongruities that our behind-the-line boys faced on a daily basis were just that. Daily doses of fear, death and dying, mixed in with silly moments of having no milk for cereal because of the diversion of a plane so that plasma could be picked up.
Same time, same general location, different day . . .The trip from Dong Ha, in a Sikorsky CH-34 'Choctaw' was an surreal voyage from calm to a sheer realization that death was in attendance. Upon entering the helicopter, I experienced a moist, sticky feeling. The aircraft was bringing the wounded and dead out of Khe Sanh. The floor of the aircraft was sticky with the ebbing fluid of life from my fellow servicemen. Khe Sanh, you volunteering dummy...to supervise the drop zone? A good thing you got rid of that stupid armalite and bought a .45 cal grease gun in Da Nang. Lots of noise; lots of lead; lots of stench; too much death and dying.)
My initial impression, upon approaching Khe Sanh, was mystical, surrealistic. An ensuing haze or fog was evident, sheer silence, intermittent explosions, minimum population, and completely inoperative runway. The planet seemed to breath red dust. Later, I experienced red-eyed rats. Oh, joy!
As parachute riggers, the Air America people were always interested in the recruitment of experienced people. The pay was excellent; the danger great. They flew mostly C-46 (DC-3) aircraft in support of CIA insurgents in Laos and Cambodia. It was very appealing to take Air America up on their offer. Why didn't I? I don't know.
Prior to the Tet offensive, I had buddies enlist into America. They were stationed at Tan Son Nhut, just east of Saigon. The Tet Offensive included two basic targets: the American Embassy and the Air America hangar. I cringe at what they did to my fellow servicemen...my buddies...my friends. I cry at the loss of humanity."
For other personalized accounts, please read the raid on Tan Son Nhut by Wayne R. "Crash" Coe of the 120th Assault Helicopter Company, Den Cook's Knockin' On Heaven's Door, and some USARV Poems,
I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting and working with one of the sweetest ladies I know. She is known far and wide as LadyTree. Whatever words I use to describe her can also be applied to her mother. I never had the honor of knowing her father but from what I've learned from her and from what I've read, he must have been one heckuva man. One of the titles I'd give him is "hero". I would like to offer some type of salute to him but for now all I have is his obituary.
REMARKS: 730314 RELEASED BY DRV
Copy provided by G.F. Rowe, Otsego, MN
N.C. - Jerry W. Marvel, retired Marine Colonel, from an apparent heart attack on his way home from a physical in Pensacola, Fla.
Marvel, a 30-year Marine veteran, was one of the longest-held prisoners during the Vietnam War. He last served as commanding officer of New River Marine Corps Air Station in 1983.
He later became a training and education director at Cherry Point Marine Air Station in 1985.
Marvel, a Marine pilot, was shot down Feb. 24, 1968, over North Vietnam. He remained a prisoner of war until March 14, 1973.
Survivors include his wife and two children, all of Newport.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
POW-MIA Freedom Fighters is a fantastic site for all those interested in what is being done to bring home MIAs. Excellent information can be found here. I gleaned this from that site. Hopefully, all proper credit has been given. If I've missed something, please e-mail me.
The POW/MIA Freedom Fighters Present:
AN AMERICAN FIGHTING MAN
by Glen R. Harris
PRELUDE: Please close your eyes and picture in your mind a man who is between 45 and 65 years of age. He is sick, suffering from malnutrition, and poorly clothed. With trembling hands he clutches the window bars of a bare and dirty prison cell. He is looking toward the sky as he speaks to his father in heaven.
I am an American fighting man. I love my country, the people of my country and I am proud to serve her. My country called me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I took training to learn to be an American fighting man. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I was sent to a country far away from my home to fight for the freedom of the people of that country. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I fought in the jungles of Vietnam, I watched my buddies die. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. My fellow countrymen spat upon me, called me a baby killer and dishonored me and my fellow fighting men. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I served my country with dignity and honor and was proud to serve. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I was captured by the enemy and made a prisoner. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I was humiliated, tortured, beaten and called a war criminal. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I kept faith, I served with dignity and honor.
My country and her fighting men will come to get me. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I have given my country all that I have, but my life. It has been twenty (20) years since I went. My country and fellow countrymen have forgotten me. I will never see my home and my loved ones again. My country doesn't need me now. My country needed me and I went.
I am an American fighting man. I fought, I was captured, I have given all that I have, but my life. My country and my fellow countrymen have forgotten me. I will give my life alone and forgotten. Because, My country needed me and I went.
Written by Glen R. Harris firstname.lastname@example.org
Sr. Vice Commander
VFW post 8315