JULY 10, 2010


Interviewed by: Mike Robinson

Interviewer’s note: Mick DeHart, a life-long Troy resident, is, among his many other accomplishments, a highly decorated Army veteran of the Vietnam War. This interview took place at the annual WACO fly-in and military display event in Troy. The discussion was limited to his military service and conducted in a question-answer format. Present also during the interview was Mick’s wife, Carol. Mick and this interviewer are classmates from the Troy High School Class of 1960.

Interviewer: Good afternoon, Mick. To get started, could you tell us about your induction into the army or some background information that led up to that event?

Mick: It is interesting in that my younger brother and I were inducted the same day, September 17, 1967; we went through and completed eight weeks of basic training together. My father was very displeased about this due to his opposition to the Vietnam war. After basic, my brother went to California and I was sent to Louisiana to be trained as a mortar operator; my brother was ultimately sent to Korea. I was 25 and my brother was 21; he trained for sixteen weeks and I was in training for an entire year. While my original military occupational specialty was that of a mortar operator, I was selected to be trained as a “shake and bake sergeant”, military slang for an intense and accelerated Non-commissioned officer school for training raw recruits to become sergeants in the one-year period. Due to the attrition rate in Vietnam, the army did not have enough replacement sergeants to meet the demands of combat; thus the accelerated program. In fact, a book on the subject entitled “Shake and Bake Sergeants” by Jerry Horton, explains this training for the Army’s then- sergeant shortage. During the Vietnam war, 25,000 men went through this program with a class of 150-175 new sergeants graduating weekly. At the end of my training cycle, one trainee from each training platoon was selected to receive the more advanced rank of Staff Sergeant E-6; I was that person. Holding that rank but with less than one year of service, like a lot of jobs I had the title but not the money (laughter).

Interviewer: How do you “cram” all the needed experience- for that rank- into the training so that you would have it when you went into the field?

Mick: Well, you get up very early and you go to bed very late! (laughter). Actually, they train you seven days instead of five; it was a very intense program. You’d do a lot in the morning- physically- until 8:00am, followed by classroom, field exercises, field problems; basically a well thought-out program lasting twelve weeks, then eight weeks of on-the-job training, working with AIT trainees. After three weeks of leave, I was headed for Vietnam and arrived by a commercial flight holding three hundred troops. It was awfully quiet going over, but a different story coming back!

We landed in Cam Ran Bay on the coast- very beautiful scenery; a beach surrounded by very high mountains. Upon exiting the plane, we went through processing and were assigned to units; I was fortunate enough to get the First Cav- my reasoning for this preference was seeing a lot of First Cav patches so I thought they were sending a lot of guys home.

Interviewer: Why don’t you take it from here. You were assigned to your unit- tell us about your indoctrination to Vietnam.

Mick: Initially it was rather nice; for the first three months, I never heard a shot fired in anger and thought- “I can do this standing on my head”. The First Cav at that time was up north and then they decided to move a little further south; each time they moved further south, things got a little more “interesting”. When we arrived in the middle of the country, close to the Cambodian border, things started to heat up. I was assigned to a “recon” platoon, which meant I was in a group of twenty-five other fellows; the group would be inserted by helicopter in territory thought to contain hostile forces; we would “look around” if somebody shot at us, that would confirm that someone was there, making the “brass” happy- hopefully we got to leave before things got “too bad”. There would typically be an exchange of “unpleasantries”.

Intrerviewer: What time frame are we talking about here?

Mick: Sometime in January 1969, our platoon got into a little skirmish with more unpleasantries between the North Vietnamese and us. As we moved further south, the 1st Cav was operating near the Cambodian border, a high traffic area with North Vietnamese troops coming south, with the result that “we were in their way” and they really wanted us to vacate the area. They tried to “harass us” so that we would leave; unfortunately we didn’t- we decided to stay and “duke it out” with them.

Interviewer: That first incident- how does it rank in intensity with your later activities? Was that typical of what you were to experience for the duration of your tour?

Mick: It’s hard to rate- you know, contact is contact; when you’re exchanging bullets with another guy, it’s not the place to be. The further south you went in country- the reason it intensified- is that the numbers increased dramatically. Whereas in the more northern skirmishes you might be dealing with half a dozen NV’s, as we moved south we were facing much larger elements. North Vietnamese were very dedicated soldiers- quite good, in fact- that’s the reason I think they were able to drag things out as long as they did.

Interviewer: Were you always inserted by helicopter- was that the usual routine?

Mick: Yes. There again, I was fortunate in that helicopters were organic to the First Cav- we had more than anybody in Vietnam at the time. My unit used them almost like taxicabs- five to seven guys in my platoon to each helicopter plus two machine-gunners assigned as part of the crew.

Some days they would pick us up at eight o’clock, take us out, drop us off and the pick us up at five o’clock or, depending on intelligence we had received, we might stay in the field from five to fifteen days. On the extended outings, we would be re-supplied by helicopter- we might even get hot food in big thermal containers, then they would come back and pick up the empties. When not so fortunate, we would eat C-rations and later LRRP rations- MRE’s (meals ready to eat) which was dehydrated food you mixed with hot water- really great tasting.

Interviewer: Did you see stateside media present when you were in the field?

Mick: Yes. On one outing, we had a CBS unit with us- not exactly the best thing that ever happened to us. They followed us while we did a sweep of a village, some of my guys were “hot-dogging it” and set off a trip-wire triggering an explosion injuring several of them; no fatalities but had they been paying attention, it probably wouldn’t have happened. The cameras were certainly a distraction.

Interviewer: Tell us about the extraction of wounded by helicopter?

Mick: The guys that flew medivac were unreal- they didn’t seem to know what fear was. They would land wherever needed no matter what hostile actions were taking place around them. They were fast and efficient, transporting our wounded to the nearest aid station for minor treatment, or, if needed, field hospitals including surgeons, much like we saw on the old MASH TV series. The seriously wounded were patched up and then sent to the rear for further involved surgery or other treatment.

Interviewer: I must say that I’ve had the experience of seeing your personal war decorations display- very impressive, to say the least. What can you tell us about this very high level of awards that you received?

Mick: It’s not my favorite topic, but don’t get me wrong- I’m very proud of them.

Interviewer: I believe the orders accompanying the awards tell the story for you. They contained very high praise for your conduct and were awarded for only the highest levels of heroism. It’s my understanding that you were reluctant to speak of your military experiences for a number of years, but recently you’ve been more open to receiving this much-deserved recognition. Your story has been featured both in regional newspapers and on the internet. How did this come about?

Mick: I have a very zealous spouse! (laughter). The veterans of my era, when coming home, had to be quiet; you did not want to carry it on your sleeve that you were a Vietnam veteran. Myself and quite a few others “put it all away” and kept it there. Over the course of time, beginning with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the change in attitude towards our troops- one of support- has also helped the Vietnam veteran with the result that he can now come out and say he’s a Vietnam vet and not feel persecuted for it; in fact, it now even carries a little status, much like the Vets of World War II. The Korean vets probably are experiencing a similar new recognition of their service; their war wasn’t popular, either. As we age and our life slows down, these war experiences come to the forefront and it is helpful to us now to be able to speak about them.

Interviewer: Over the years, have you stayed in contact with the guys you served with?

Mick: Only one man, a trucker, who would call me whenever he passed through the Troy area. I attended my first army reunion thirty-nine years after serving in Vietnam, an unbelievable experience, very emotional.

Interviewer: Can you tell us how the reunion came about?

Mick: My first sergeant, after all those years, made contact with me and sent a roster with the names of all our guys; I thought it would be great to have a reunion and asked my wife Carol if she would start the ball rolling. I got out of the way, and she has spent many, many months on the phone calling everybody. Many of the conversations would last up to one and one-half hours each.

Interviewer: To Carol. What was said during these conversations?

Carol: Most of the people had Caller ID on their phones and recognized the name. The conversations were difficult and after awhile, I had to walk away from them and take a break.

Interviewer: To Mick. Did you get involved in these conversations yourself?

Mick: Well, they were not my strong suit. Keep in mind these were guys like me, with thirty-nine years of stored-up conversations, emotions, so when you opened the gates, it came out in buckets. I couldn’t bring myself to make the cold calls as Carol did. They were thrilled to talk to her- someone who would listen and just might understand their situation, so they let it all out. Sometimes I’d get involved in the conversation and each call seemed like it would never end- the people on the other end each wanted them to continue.

Carol: Mick was a platoon sergeant- their platoon sergeant- and they wanted to tell me how well he (Mick) took care of them, and how much they thought of him. Since each call was lengthy, I got one of Mick’s guys to help me with the two-hundred plus contacts

we needed to make for the entire company of men whose time had overlapped with Mick’s. We also found most of Mick’s officers, up to the rank of colonel. Even with the passage of time, the strength of the bond with these men was obvious and most wanted to see each other again.

Mick: The first reunion in 2008 was a great success, leading to the second one in 2009; rekindling the old memories.

Interviewer: Tell us about the Columbus event first and the award you received.

In November of 2008, Carol nominated me for induction into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame; membership in that group requires the nominees to have been the recipient of a commendation for valor in combat. Nancy Bowman of the Dayton Daily News learned of my approved membership, the details of my military service, and wrote a lengthy article appearing in the April 30, 2009 edition. The induction ceremony took place in Columbus the following day.

Mick: Interviewer: Can you enumerate for me all the medals and honors you have received?

Mick: I was awarded two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantry Badge, an Air Medal, two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry, the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, and Good Conduct Medal.

Interviewer: And finally, your return home.

Mick: The actual flight back to the states in 1969 was uneventful; like all returning soldiers, we were excited about leaving Vietnam behind and our return to civilian life. For me and so many others, though, that year of your life, regardless of the intensity of it, was over and we faced the immediate need to put the experience behind us and go on about our business. I was not comfortable discussing my service in Vietnam with civilians and soon found that none seemed to be either interested or curious; some were even hostile if the subject came up. Years later, after my induction into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame, I ran into a post-office employee who asked, “How long did you and I work together? When I responded, “twelve years”, he asked, “why didn’t you tell me you had been in the service?”

I must admit I’ve enjoyed the very favorable attention I’ve received over the last two years. It could be summed up with an experience I had while traveling to my most recent reunion. While waiting for my luggage, a man came up to me and asked, “Did you say that you are a Vietnam veteran?” Upon my affirmative response, he held out his hand and said, “I want to thank you for your service”, and walked away.

Interviewer’s note: Copies of the official Army orders authorizing the awards, commendations from the South Vietnamese government, and the April 30, 2009 Dayton Daily News article are attached to the copy of this interview located in the Local History Room of the Troy Miami County Public Library, 100 West Main Street, Troy, Ohio 45373.

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