Welcome Home Former Navy Officer Share His Vietnam Story
Mike Martin is one of those self-made men, someone who managed to overcome early obstacles in life without much help or support. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona and knew virtually nothing about his Father. He grew up with his mother and stepdad in a less then idea situation. His stepdad was career Air Force and a raging alcoholic. They moved around a lot and Mike attended 28 different schools in three different states. He ran away from home after his junior year in high school and went to Tucson. He moved in with an aunt and grandmother and finished high school there in June of 1965.
He managed to enroll at the University of Arizona immediately after finishing high school. That same week he received his draft notice. Since Mike was already enrolled in college, he was able to obtain a 25-student deferment, which was for one year. He knew he wanted to continue his education, so he enlisted in the Navy Reserves in order to complete his education and avoid the draft. He knew he wanted to be a naval officer after school, so he got accepted to attend the first portion of Officer Candidate School (OCS) in the summer of 1967, between his junior and senior year.
Meanwhile Mike also worked fulltime to pay his way through college and still managed to graduate from college in 1968, a year ahead of schedule. After graduation, he completed his second half of OCS and was commissioned as ensigned in the United States Navy in the fall of 1968.
After more training he was shipped to Vietnam on July 4, 1968, “What a great way to celebrate Independence day.” Mike says with a grin. He was assigned to the Naval Support Division at De Nang and his assignment was in the Freight Operation Department. His official title was Freight Expedite Officer. He described his assignment in Vietnam as that of a trucking foreman., in charge of 180 trucks that had off-load supplies from ships in the Da Nang harbor and were delivering the supplies all around this part of Vietnam. He was not a combat soldier, He was “behind the wire” as he calls it. Sure, Da Nang received regular rocket attack, but he wasn’t in the thick of it as so many were. Most of his job was routine and UNEVENTFUL.
A year later on July 4, 1970, Mike has been promoted to Lieutenant J.G. (Junior Grade) and had completed his 1-year tour of duty. He was happy to be leaving as he waited at the Da Nang airfield. By all outward appearance, all the others were just as happy as he was. It was a mixed bag of men who waited to board the TWA commercial jet that would take them home. The uniform reflected various ranks of Navy, Army, and Marine personnel as they stood in line to board the big jet, about 200 happy souls who wanted nothing more than to go home, see their girlfriends or wives and resume a normal life.
There was a lot of boisterous behavior, beginning with loud cheers when the plane lifted off and headed out over the ocean. Loud conversations continued through the long flight home, most of it focused on girls and drinking, and what the men would do when they got home.
After a very long flight home the plane approached L.A. International Airport and entered a landing pattern. The wheels touched the ground there was near pandemonium in the plane with the loud cheers and yells. The men couldn’t wait to get off the plane, but somehow, they got off in an orderly fashion and entered the terminal. Home on Independence Day! How much better could it get?
The men weren’t prepared for what awaited them. All were still in uniform. Mike was wearing his camouflage fatigues. Others wore various uniforms of their branches of service. They were definitely aware of unrest in the U.S. about the war but didn’t expect what happened next.
There were about 150 war protestors waiting for them, carrying signs, chanting slogans, and yelling “baby killer.” They stepped in front of the servicemen, blocking their paths when possible. The men weren’t ready for this and there were no measures to keep the two groups apart. The Vets kept their composure, much to their credit, side stepped the protest and trying to move past them.
As Mike weaved his way through the protests he saw a young woman in front of him, an attractive young full-figured gal, still a teenager. He still recalls that she was wearing hippie garb of the day, including sandals. She had a filthy mouth and was yelling obscenities at the returning Veterans. As he stepped to the side to walk around her, she spit at him, hitting him directly in the face. Her actions stung, but in ways she could not imagine.
Mike was not a combat soldier. He hadn’t killed anyone. He had a total of two hours weapons training, and he was “behind the wire” so to speak, in a relatively safe zone. His job was supervising the loading of trucks and delivery of materials. The girl and her friends were clueless. Many of the men on this plane were draftees and had no choice in the matter, yet all of these men were lumped into one group that she and her companions labeled “baby killers.” There were references to “My Lai” on some of the signs. The terminology became increasingly popular after the isolated incident in 1968 when Lt. William Callery, an infantry officer, and some of his men were accused of murdering innocent citizens. The incident became known as the My Lai Massacre and Caller was later convinced of killing innocent villages.
These were not the same men, though. Many, like Mike weren’t even in combat, but this misinformed bunch of protestors put everyone in the same bag. Mike simply stepped around the woman and walked past her and the others who were trying to block his path.
Mike completed his four-year obligation in the military at various bases and left the Navy in 1972. Since then, Mike has devoted to helping educate others about the Vietnam War and helping Veterans from California to Texas, Mike lives in Houston and was the man to open my eyes. I am the designer of this website, and a “passionate patriot” as Mike calls me. I was 44 years old and knew nothing of the war that officially ended 2 years before my birth. Mike changed that and gave me a passion to help wherever I can.
Mike often reflects on the war and his return home. A most vivid memory of his Vietnam War experience didn’t even occur in Vietnam, but at the Los Angeles airport in his own country. He can’t help but wonder what happened to that young woman and the other protestors. Did they ever come to the realization of how misguided they were and that targets should not have been the young men caught up in the war? One can only hope so.