HELENA -- “I’m not sure exactly why I was motivated to serve, but partly because there was a war in Vietnam,” said Helena veteran Mike May, when asked about his service in the armed forces. “Also, since my dad had served in WWII and my Grandpa in WWI, I figured I should carry on the tradition.
“In addition it would provide a steady paycheck.” That “steady paycheck” turned into a military career spanning five decades.
May graduated from Maryvale High School in Phoenix in 1966. He married Susan (Vann) in late 1967 – they would parent two daughters and a son – and joined in the U.S. Army in February 1968.
After finishing basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, he attended Wheeled and Tracked Vehicle Maintenance school in Aberdeen, Maryland. He arrived in Cam Rahn, Vietnam, in September 1968, assigned to the 5th Transportation Command, Headquarters Company.
His orders sent him to Qui Nhon, on the coast in the central highlands, and he was assigned to the S-4 shop on the Port Facility. They moved to the barracks on the port, having to do with the distribution of supplies that came in.
May figured he’d be assigned to the motor pool as a mechanic, but he wound up typing in the office. He served most of his tour as the S-4 clerk and driver, chauffeuring officers around.
“Things around Qui Nhon were usually pretty quiet, and I think that was because we had Republic of Korea troops there, and the VC were scared of them,” May, 72, said.
However, once the enemy came down on the other side of the bay into the small navy patrol boat, “we had a duster on our side of the bay which is a twin 40mm gun on a tracked carriage, and it provided (our) fire support,” he recounted.
When they opened fire, he said it was “actually kind of pretty seeing those 40mm tracer rounds go across the bay,” and watch them hit and sometime ricochet up into the air.
May was able to witness an impressive B-52 air strike out towards the mud flats where the VC had some bases, as well.
“And there was the night I was scheduled to pull guard duty and they pulled my name off and changed me to another night so I could be the duty driver for that night,” he said. “It was a good thing they did, because that night the VC put a RPG round into the guard tower I was assigned to. I don’t recall that anyone was killed but I think one guy was wounded.”
They were also on a high alert during TET Offensive of 1968. Once a firefight took place down at the end of there quay during that time and everyone manned the bunkers.
“The quay was a long spit of land with a road on top that went out the back side of the base toward the valley and fuel dump, which were in that direction,” May explained.
He left Vietnam in September 1969, and was assigned to Fort Eustis, Virginia, at the transportation school there. Next came a stint at Augsburg, Germany, prior to his discharge in January 1971.
May studied photography and journalism at Glendale Community College. He entered the Air National Guard in Phoenix, with the 107th Tactical Control Squadron, before moving over to Sky Harbor IAP.
He then enlisted in the Air Force and was assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After attending Radio School at Keesler Air Force in Mississippi, he was assigned to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, in 1975.
It was there that May was picked to drive in a presidential motorcade. President Ford was flying into Barksdale on the way to Shreveport so they were looking for military personnel for the motorcade taking him downtown.
Instead of reenlisting, May obtained a full-time position with the Air Guard, on the civilian side as an administrative clerk. As the orderly room clerk, he did all the typing and paperwork for the squadron commander and his staff, in addition to publishing the squadron newspaper.
During one of his deployments, to Big Bear, California, the 2-and-a-half-ton truck they were in missed a curve and rolled down the mountainside.
“Amazingly, no one was killed, and if I remember right only a few people had broken arms and legs and some nasty cuts and bruises,” May related. “I got a pretty nasty gash on the back of my head.”
His next stations were Air Guard Unit at Sky Harbor, and Luke Air Force Base (Arizona) receiver site.
With the Ground Launch Cruise Missile program, he deployed to Comiso Air Base, Sicily, working in the quality control shop. While there, he witnessed the discovery of a 250-pound World War II bomb, with metal detectors.
After rotating back stateside, May decided to get out of the service, and tried his hand at several civilian jobs for a while. But he remained in the Air Reserve as a week-ender.
After 32 years of marriage and numerous deployments, Mike and Susan were divorced. He then married his second wife, Pam (twice), which also ended in divorce.
May ran the Disaster Preparedness unit in the 944th Civil Engineer Squadron of the Air Force Reserve on Luke Air Force Base. He then retired from the military in 2007 with 23 years combined service, at the rank of E7 master sergeant, before moving to Montana. Among his hobbies are volunteering at Fort Harrison’s Montana Military Museum, dog walking, helping with a frame club, and enjoying the outdoors.
“I have to say it’s been an interesting life. I’ve seen a lot of places, met a lot of very neat people (and some not so neat), and have a wonderful family,” May concluded. “I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.”
Curt Synness, a Navy veteran, can be contacted at 594-2878 or email@example.com. He’s also on Twitter @curtsynness_IR
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