From DaNang to Helena

By: qwerty53

Jul 22 2008

Category: AL, Helena, Helena, AL, People That Offer Us Inspiration, Uncategorized, Veterans

2 Comments

Aperture:f/5.3
Focal Length:55mm
ISO:400
Shutter:1/80 sec
Camera:NIKON D70

Mike Price was not expecting the letter he received this past March from Billy Gretzmacher, a Boy Scout
in New Jersey. This young man, working towards his Eagle Scout badge, wrote that he had what he believed were Mike’s dog tags from his service in Vietnam in 1966-68.

Mike, who voluntarily joined the Marines after high school, became a M60 Machine Gunner in the Infantry. His outfit, based in DaNang, was attached to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Fox Trot Company. Their mission was to run nightly ambushes on the enemy to prevent them from rocketing U.S. Phantom jets. During the first six months of duty, his company of 250 men was on night patrol and fought guerillas and North Vietnamese Regulars. A few good Marines in his company were lost to sniper fire or landmines.

During the second half of his tour, the company was reassigned to a mountain by the Ho Chi Minh Trail where their focus was stopping the flow of smuggled weapons. Mike recalls the one beautiful image from his memory, sitting atop this mountain at dawn, the floating white clouds swirling below, isolating him momentarily in a heaven-like vista. When the clouds lifted, three countries—Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were visible.

His company was extraordinarily successful in capturing weapons and the enemy, earning them the nickname of ‘Baby Battalion’ and they were written up in the Stars and Stripes. Unknown to them, the North Vietnamese planned to send in a regiment of 1000 men to annihilate them.

Mike’s company was divided and his squad of 18 was sent to another mountain the day of the attack. “The good Lord was looking out for me that day,” Mike says. Through radio contact, they witnessed a fierce attack of their first platoon, which was completely leveled by machine guns in the rice paddy. Behind them, the second and third platoons trying to rescue them, suffered the same fate. Men were out of ammunition and hand-to-hand combat broke out in an all-day battle. An Emergency Bald Eagle was called in, but that day Mike lost everyone that he had served with, save the other seventeen men in his squad.

He was then assigned to a new company and sent to Kwan Tre Province to run a similar operation. When his tour of duty was up it was difficult to safely get out of the country. On his way to Dong Ha Airport to depart, the airport came under attack. Mike says he was very ready at this point to be gone and hitched a ride to the civilian airport at Quang Tre where a C130, slowly going down the runway saw him waving his manila envelope with his orders. Air Force personnel inside reached out for his arm and pulled Mike inside. From there he flew to Camron Bay, where he stayed three days telling the stories of what he had seen on front lines.

Lastly, he went to Da Nang, where he was processed to come home and he was issued a new set of dog tags. While there, he threw away everything that reminded him of the previous months, including the dog tags that would find him some 40 years later.

The Marine Corps League has assigned Eagle Scout candidates to search for the owners of tags recovered after the war as part of the completion of their service project. Mike received his tags and gave an account of his experiences to Billy for documentation. As Mike wrote to Billy, “Remember the men who gave the sacrifice of life for this country. They did it willingly, to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. Semper Fi, meaning ‘always faithful’ was the motto, in the truest sense of the word, of every man in our company.”

Mike is pictured, here, with the returned tag. An Alabama native who was raised in Eastlake, he is a superintendent with Dixie Accoustical Contractors and his wife, Cathy, works at the JBH Helena Public Library.

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2 comments on “From DaNang to Helena”

  1. My son is a year away from Eagle so I know what a big deal it is…I love your profiles of Helena Natives!

  2. Thanks, Hewy. I appreciate your interest. I am continually meeting great folks here in Helena!
    Wanna volunteer for an interview?


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