Michael Joseph Miguel

Leemore, California

April 11, 1967

In early 1967, the Vietnam war was still in its infancy. Troops were moving in, political speeches of a fast and swift victory were heard throughout the United States. A commitment to duty and honor was shown by thousands of men and women ready to fight communism. Of course there would be no escalation, of course there would be some deaths, and of course we would win. How dare a small foreign country even think about fighting the US Armed Forces.

Just as in previous wars, the call to duty was a personal decision. From 1965-67, men (and women) would leave their secure homes and dreams, forget about having their obligated 2 children and family, and put off ambitions of business, farming, and professional services. The majority of individuals entering the Service did so on their own, and for their own reasons. We believed our President. We met the challenge of what our fathers had done and heard their stories. We were a 60’s generation that had no fear and longed for a break in the routine taught by our parents.

A little known fact was that there were thousands that joined in this critical timeframe that were either in College at the time or had already graduated. Michael Miguel was already 23 years old when he joined the Marine Corps, and the pride swelled. It was, of course, his duty. College-educated, he was a born leader and the 18-year-olds looked up to him with respect.

Michael, like many at the time, made a personal decision to be one of the best. A ‘Grunt’. Tempted to go through Officer Candidate School, he wanted to go fight. No more schooling, no desk job, no strategic thinking or analytical thoughts. Fight. Kill. Ofcourse he would make a difference. Of course he would be part of something worthwhile that would count. Our President said so.

Arriving in Vietnam, he was infused into the 26th Marine Regiment, Company E, 2nd Battalion. He had just been though the arduous Advanced Infantry Training at Camp Pendleton, CA. There wasn’t a weapon of death that he couldn’t handle. Rocket-Propelled Grenades. Bazookas. Machine-guns. He was taught that the ‘gooks’ were sneaky….but never as smart as a well-prepared, well-trained US Marine. He was ready as soon as he touched the land over there.

Marines that went to Vietnam were located in the “I” Corps, the most northern sections to defend and destroy the NVA as they tried to cross over the Demilitarized Zone. Their routine became almost ritual with search and destroy missions, firefights, constantvigilance of an enemy they couldn’t find. PFC Miguel was part of a well-oiled fighting machine tuned to perfection over hundreds of years of combat experience. The problem was that they were now fighting similar soldiers that had the same amount of history…..and on their turf.

On April 11, 1967, Pfc Miguel and a squad were on another mission. Earlier that day the Air Force had done their daily bomb runs outside of Hue in Thua Thien Province. Go in, get a body count, find and kill anything that may be left over. The heat was unbearable with helmet, 65# pack, weapons, grenades, and as much rifle ammunition that they could stick on their bodies. They got to their area of operation that day and found a small crater with a 250# bomb that had been dropped, but never exploded. No visible signs of the enemy around, and the decision was made that they would wire the bomb and explode it so that the NVA couldn’t use it against other unsuspecting Marines. It was time for a short but much-needed break, while Michael and two other Marines decided to get a water refill.

What they didn’t know was that there was enemy activity still in the area, and that the NVA had already located this dud. The ‘dumb gooks’ had left the bomb, as they knew exactly what any squad coming onto it would do. Instead, they carefully planted mines to the north (where the squad was to continue to) and to the east (where the river bed was). They had meticulously covered their tracks and were probably nearby waiting. Leading the way, Pfc Miguel was the first to step on the hidden mine. The explosion was so devastating that there was no sign of him left. The second Marine was killed, but unrecognizable. Oddly, the third man in the line wasn’t even knocked off his feet. He just stood there staring at what happened. Or tried to. He was blinded in both eyes for life.

The Sergeant in command called in an evacuation helicopter to get the wounded and killed out. Now alert, he found the northern mine, blew it in place, and the rest of the squad continued on. It was just another day in ‘Nam, and grieving would have to comelater after the day’s job was done. For some that knew Michael Miguel, the grief would never go away.

For years to follow the enemy would refine their ‘dumbness’ that would cost the lives of tens of thousands of brave dedicated soldiers in a war that we couldn’t lose. Of course.

Michael Joseph Miguel’s name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 18E, Line 16.

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