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The merit of Memorial Day

Local pilot’s words hold meaning

Former Cobra helicopter pilot and Vietnam veteran Mike Brown honors Memorial Day by asking that we remember the sacrifices of all fallen servicemembers. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Mike Brown held out his red cap. The words "Blue Max" bracketed a blue Maltese Cross with gold eagles between the arms. On the body of the cross appear the French words "Pour le Me'rite."

They translate as "For Merit," and they characterize some of Brown's life and thinking.

"I am an idealist," he commented as he sat in a local coffee shop, "and I grew up under the watch of the Greatest Generation."

After graduation from high school in Sand Point, Idaho, Brown entered West Point and earned his commission in 1966.

The class of 1966 was the first to feel the full weight of the Vietnam War; it was also the first to reflect a growing national disillusionment in the military by resigning in record numbers after the obligatory four years of service.  

"Before graduation, I volunteered for duty in Vietnam," he related. "I did this because the country had put me through school: I wanted to pay the nation back."

From August 1967 to August 1968, Brown served as an artillery forward observer with C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

Returning home, he served at Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

At the end of an advanced artillery course at the Oklahoma base, Brown was informed he would be sent back to Vietnam as an advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry unit.

Not wanting to do this, Brown proposed that he fly helicopters. The Army agreed and sent him to Rotary Wing Flight School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and to AH-1G Cobra training at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. He graduated in September 1971.

A month later, Brown reported for duty to the elite Blue Max, an aerial field artillery unit. The unit provided ground troop, transport and artillery support

His life changed June 21, 1972.

His and three other Cobras were providing escort to a number of Huey helicopters attempting to extract Vietnamese troops outside An Loc.

While over the landing area, Brown heard the words, MISSILE! MISSLE! MISSILE!

An SA-7 Soviet-built rocket exploded very near his Cobra, separating the tail-boom from the body of the helicopter. Brown and his co-pilot, Capt. Marco Cordon, headed down.

In a rare feat of piloting and luck, the two managed to land the Cobra down in the jungle. Not severely hurt, they were soon rescued.

Brown left Vietnam in October 1972, and in 1973 he became one of the many West Pointers to leave the Army.

"Every year since we've been living in DuPont, we've taken part in the wear blue: run to remember event on Memorial Day," Brown said.

"The day is one to pay more attention to and remember the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their all. They merit this."

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