MIKE FORCE STONE DEDICATION CEREMONY: 19 June 2002

by Lt. Col. L.H. "Bucky" Burruss, USA (Ret.)

It’s a great privilege to be here today to take part in the dedication of the Mike Force memorial stone -- a tribute not only to the Americans and Australians who led the Mobile Strike Forces, but to those magnificent, loyal, culturally diverse soldiers -- mostly from the ethnic minorities of Vietnam -- that we had the honor of leading into battle.It’s a special privilege to be here during the 50th anniversary of Special Forces, in the presence of so many of the original members of SF. And it is great to see the Australians taking part in this dedication, because it’s their stone, too, and because the Aussies of the Mike Force distinguished themselves with a degree of leadership and valor that far exceeded their numbers. Incidentally, I’m sure everyone here is aware that American and Australian Special Forces are again fighting side-by-side as they hunt down and kill our enemies in Afghanistan, writing a glorious new chapter in the history of Special Forces.

Today, we’re dedicating a stone to earlier units whose mission was to hunt down and kill the enemies of freedom -- actually, there was seldom a need for the Mike Force to hunt them down, because we already knew where they were -- at places like A Shau, Dak Seang, Duc Lap, Nui Khet, and Lang Vei, they were surrounding the camps, or already in the wire, or inside the camp. It was the mission of the Mike Force to move in, root them out and destroy them, and by God, that’s what we did, and did it well. The sad thing is that so many good Mike Force soldiers lost their lives in combat; on the memorial wall over there are the names of at least 157 American Mike Force soldiers. And there were so many good Australians who fell, and thousands - thousands - of Montagnards, Nungs, Cambodes, Chams, and others it was our privilege to lead.

Let me tell you about a few of those Mike Force warriors…

One of the first to fall was a medic named Billie Hall. Sam Carter had taken the newly-formed Mike Force to Camp A Shau to help defend the camp against some 2,000 communists moving into position to overrun it. During the early stages of the attack, Staff Sergeant Hall had both legs blown off. In spite of his critical wounds, he tied tourniquets on his stumps and dragged himself around to treat his wounded comrades. When he was finally carried to the aid point, Hall refused morphine so that he could stay lucid and give instructions for treating the other wounded, which he did until he lost consciousness and died. Hall was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, although many of us feel he deserved a Medal of Honor. In the fight at Camp A Shau, by the way, the Mike Force suffered eighty-six percent casualties; every American was wounded at least once, many of them several times, before they had to abandon the place. But not until after they killed thousands of communists.

SFC William Bryant of the 3rd Mobile Strike Force -- the NCO that Bryant Hall is named for -- was awarded the Medal of Honor for counterattacking the three enemy regiments that had surrounded his Mike Force battalion. During thirty-four hours of incessant fighting, in spite of the fact that he was greatly outnumbered, Bryant continued to seize the initiative and hit the enemy at every opportunity.Already severely wounded, he was killed after he fearlessly charged and overran an enemy automatic weapons position.

Brian Buker, one of my own teammates, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his singlehanded attacks, in spite of his wounds, against heavily-fortified enemy bunkers atop Nui Khet, an enemy-infested, rocky mountaintop that we took back from the communists with the IV Corps Mike Force.

Another Mike Force soldier, Jerry Hetzler of II Corps, was twice recommended for the Medal of Honor after he already had one DSC. The last time was at Dak Seang, where both the Pleiku and NhaTrang Mike Forces had gone to keep the camp from being overrun by a couple of NVA divisions.Chuck Randall had left the camp with a platoon to try to get back to his battalion - which, by the way, had gone in to replace a whole South Vietnamese regiment that had been run off by the NVA. Randall got cut off and surrounded, was wounded several times trying to save Tim Drake, the other American with him. Randall, all shot up, would have died that night if Hetzler hadn’t taken his company out at night in the jungle, fought his way through the NVA surrounding the camp and rescued Randall, recovered Drake’s body, and fought his way back to the camp. Chuck had eighteen holes in his body from bullets and fragments, when I kidnapped him from the hospital, at his request, so he wouldn’t be medevaced to Japan.

Hetzler ended up with three Distinguished Service Crosses, but not the Medal of Honor he was twice recommended for and richly deserved.

There were two Australians who were awarded the Victoria Cross, the equivalent of the Medal of Honor, while serving with the Mike Force: Keith Payne in I Corps, and Ray Simpson of the II Corps Mike Force.

We all saw incredible acts of bravery from the indigenous Mike Force troops, too. One of my favorites was a Cham named Khoe. I remember watching him the time Sam Coutts attacked the entire 18B NVA Regiment with one company of Chams, up on the Grand Summit. I was trying my best to melt into the ground and hide behind a two inch sapling, while Khoe was walking up and down the line of his platoon, kicking them and getting them up and into the assault while bullets were knocking leaves and branches off the trees all around him.

There are so many images like that of Mike Force soldiers burned into my mind: Don Poncin running straight into an ambush killing zone to pick up a wounded ‘yard before getting knocked down himself by a bullet in the belly. Bud McBroom downtown during Tet, lying in the street with an M-60, trading burst after burst with an NVA machine gunner until he finally killed his foe. Larry O’Neill assaulting into Province headquarters by himself because he was tired of seeing his men killed and wounded.

But there were fun moments, too; drinking nam pe with the Yards, singing “Mary Ann Barnes,” and “God Bless America,” hand grenade fishing during stand down, walking into the Streamer bar, throwing all the money in your pocket on the bar and telling mama-san, “Let me know when it’s all gone, mama-san.” Flying into the III Corps Mike Force FOB after they had captured the biggest weapons cache of the war, where Lee Mize - a Medal of Honor winner in Korea - finally had to put up a sign that said something like, “General, if you’re here to get yourself an SKS, get your ass back on your helicopter.”

But what we remember most are the many battles that the Mike Forces fought, with so much valor, so much heroism, so much sacrifice. The Valorous Unit Citations, and combat parachute assaults. The loss of friends we remember not just as teammates, but as brothers. Frank McNutt, Otis Parker, Joe Zamiara, and all the others. I still often wonder how it is that I was allowed the honor of serving with such magnificent men, and not just those who have crossed the final Line of Departure, but those of you here today. We share a sacred bond as Mike Force brothers, and I admire and love every one of you. As we so often said when watching each other head off to another difficult battle, “You sweet mothers… don’t you never die!

Now, let us unveil the Mike Force stone, not only to remind us of those who went before, but to inspire those Special Forces soldiers who will follow in our footsteps… seeking out and killing the oppressors of freedom. God bless the Mike Force, and God Bless America.