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August 2, 2017

Requiem for a Warrior–Michael H. McCauley

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The bonds created by shared fear and the horrors of battle are strong. For years I didn’t understand that. For years I didn’t understand that the bonds forged between warriors who endure the fury of combat even existed. For forty years I felt there really were no such bonds.

Since most Vietnam veterans chose to clamp our mouths shut and corral our memories of combat, the opportunities for us to begin to understand the emotional linkage that exists between warriors were not taken advantage of for decades.

Mike McCauley in Marine Corps dress blues.

I recall the first time I talked to one of my old comrades. It was 25-plus years since I’d escaped the savagery of war, and when we first talked it was like I’d found someone I’d been looking for even though I didn’t know I’d been involved in any such search.

Yet there was something pulling at me and over the intervening years since that initial contact, that attraction, that magnetic force, so to speak, has drawn me into close relationships with the men who shared the nightmares of Khe Sanh with me.

One of those men was Michael H. McCauley. I didn’t know Mike in Vietnam. I might have seen his face as I walked by on my way out on patrol or ambush. We might have nodded at each other and maybe exchanged a comment.

Mike McCauley on a panel of Marines at the screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, Idaho, 2013

He was in First Platoon and I was in Second. He was a relative new guy compared to me. We hadn’t a lot in common . . . me a desert rat from Arizona and he a city boy from Boston. But what we did have in common was the Marine Corps and over seventy days trapped inside the concertina wire perimeter of Khe Sanh Combat Base.

And boy what a bond. We became good friends and I’m not sure that’s even the right word to describe our relationship. We were comrades; we were men who understood what very few could understand. We had knowledge—emotional and intellectual and intuitive—that I really wouldn’t want anybody else to learn because how you learn it, the price of it, is too damned high.

Nevertheless, we were comrades who understood leeches and jungle grass and the roar of 152 millimeter artillery rounds storming at you. We understood the glint in the eye of the enemy, be he living or dead. We understood combat. We could talk about it. And we could laugh about it, among ourselves of course, but not with many of the uninitiated.

Mike liked to hand out these hats to men who served with BRAVO! They were his creations.

And Mike liked to laugh. He was quiet most of the time. A listener with a quick wit. A man who endured much in his life during and after the war.

Mike was a man whom I liked to be around. It was easy being around Mike. No angst, no bullshit, just a straight-up guy. A very kind man beloved by many whether they were war comrades or not.

In the war, Mike saw a lot more hell than I did. He endured the siege and then continued with BRAVO! all spring and summer and fall of 1968 when the 1st Battalion 26th Marines were locked in repetitive battle with the enemy in other locations around South Vietnam.

And like all of us veterans of war fighting, I believe the warrioring took its toll on Mike.

In early July of this year, Mike left us to go wherever it is you go when you pass on. I think he believed that to be some kind of heaven.

Ruth and Mike McCauley in Moscow, Idaho, 2013.

He’d been pretty damned sick for a while. I’d call him up or he’d call me and we’d talk and he’d tell me—he’d man right up—about exactly what was happening to him. It was sad and he was courageous and it hurt me every time we talked and every time I thought about it after switching off the cell phone.

I’m going to miss Mike’s laugh. I’m going to long for his smile and his wry comments in that Boston patois I’d know anywhere.

And yet I’m grateful I can still laugh with him, and recall the Siege of Khe Sanh with him, every time I watch BRAVO!. But not without shedding a tear or two when I think about how much I miss him.
All of us Vietnam veterans are on a march, one from which we can’t fall out, to join Mike and all the other men we served with in that long-ago conflict.

Mike will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, a place of honor and dignity, on August 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM. Arlington, a place he deserves to rest.

Our deepest condolences to Mike’s devoted wife, Ruth McCauley, his big and boisterous family who embraced Betty and me with open arms, and the multitude of his many beloved friends around the country.

  1. Mike sounds like he was the kind of guy you’d want on your six or hanging out with you on leave. A good man, through and through. I’m saddened to hear of the loss of another one of our Vietnam Veterans. I have a very soft spot in my heart for you all. My heroes. There’s something very special to me about you men – you who served at this particular time and place in history. All that was going on in the world, the division, the confusion, the cal to go, summer of love, the political atmosphere, the hippy movement, and at the end of it all; duty. To each other, to your brothers despite it all. How does one really capture all of that and make sense of it? I don’t know. Hell, I don’t know how I found this site. I don’t know much more about the hidden side of my Dad that was lost and tucked away in Vietnam than I do from the newspaper clippings, his short moments of opening up to me, what his uniform signifies, and what I know from my own service. I guess I was looking up a lost veteran by a similar name from a different era, after searching for stuff about my Father who was a Vietnam Vet like you gents, albeit an Army Ranger, not a Marine. That’s ok, we still like our Marines ;) I often look at pictures and books and things he left me and think about what you all must have went on through. First time my Dad got serious with me in a real profound way was before I left for Army Infantry basic way back when and he said, “Now Son, you be damn careful, you hear me. This [GWOT] ain’t like my war. You be safe and keep your head down, you listening to me, Son?” Taken aback, I thought, Hell, I’ll take this over ‘Nam any goddamn day. He made it home from ‘68-69, but death came with him and lost him to Agent Orange, 2 months shy of my commissioning in the infantry. We never got to pin those wings on me at Benning. I don’t know why I’m saying all this. Maybe I’m trying to understand him better and learn just how much Vietnam meant to him and how much it took from him. I know what it took from me and what I’ll never get back. Hats off to you and your late friend. This is a beautiful tribie and Mike was lucky to have you as a friend. God bless you and your Brothers. From one Grunt to another. I’ll always keep you all in my heart. Say hi to my Dad, Mike!

    – Cpt. D. W., USA, Ret.

    “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away…” -MacArthur

    Comment by Dennis W. — May 5, 2024 @ 8:24 pm

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