"Some Gave All"

Vietnam Combat Veteran 
and Bronze Star Hero
Cpl. Michael Alan McAninch, USMC
First Marines, Mike 3/7

August 28, 1969, While Defending His Squad
In Quang Nam Province, Hill 55, Vietnam 
During the Joint Marine Corps and USA Hiep Duc Valley
Counter Attack of the Summer Offensive

Panel 18W, Line 2 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in DC

"A man does not die until he is forgotten"

[Summer 1968 Before Boot Camp.]

My best friend, my soulmate,
And the love of my life

Michael was a philosophy major who wanted to teach college. He loved sailing, rock music, movies, writing poetry, playing guitar, reading, kids (he wanted three), animals, his family and friends, the Vietnamese people (he wanted to be an interpreter)--and me, his Joanie.


Among my treasured memories are the warm, summer days before he left for boot camp in San Diego. Michael made my favorite for dinner: spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad, with red wine, after which we went for a walk in the park near our apartment and were joined by a half-grown yellow lab pup who ran to Michael. They played for a long time--laughing, chasing, and hugging one another while I watched with delight, and still can see them joyously romping. 

Another day, we drove to Galveston, found a spot on the beach to spread our towels, where we read to one another, talked about the coming trials (Michael more concerned about me than about himself), walked on the beach, had to dig out the car tires because the tide came in while we were beach combing, and I ended up with a bad sunburn. When we returned to our home on Yupon Street, Michael drew me a lukewarm bath to ease the burn and poured me a glass of wine. Afterwards, he gently applied lotion to ease the burns, put on some music, curled up next to me, and told me funny stories until I could finally fall asleep. The following day, the pain was better, and he took me to see the Zeffirelli film, Romeo and Juliet, which we both loved; then we went out to dinner in Houston. 

Michael and I loved one another, we loved being together, and we loved taking care of one another. We spent summer afternoons in our apartment with close friends, listening to music, laughing, teasing one another, being young. We went to the old Cougar Den at The University of Houston--where we had met and fallen in love while talking about music and books--to hang out with college friends, chatting over coffee and fries. We went to our beloved Hermann Park, stopping at the pond that existed at that time to float the sailboat Michael had meticulously carved and outfitted, watching it bob among the calmly floating ducks and other sailboats, quietly talking, holding hands. We walked all through the park, admiring the statues that are now in the museum; we went to the zoo, and especially liked the charming giraffes. We spent an afternoon at the Planetarium and another at the Fine Arts Museum, enjoying hours in the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman rooms. At home, we read, took long walks, talked late into the night, made plans for our future, and held each other in our sleep. 

These are my precious last summer memory-days with Michael. I see them clearly: Michael's beautiful smile as he looks into my eyes; his hair curling at the base of his neck; his tanned, slender body, his arms warmly holding me close; his voice and his laugh. I watch him writing poems to me on napkins, practicing his guitar, changing the sixties rock albums on the player, whipping up a snack in the kitchen, joking with our friends; walking toward me, always walking toward me, laughing, taking me in his arms again, kissing me deeply, and whispering my name: He called me Joanie. Michael was there--and he was a miracle. These are the days I cherish because they were the last that were so innocently blissful and idyllic--so innocently hopeful for when he would return. 

These were also the summer months before he left for boot camp, and we did our best to be cheerful for one another, hoping the war would end before he had to go. But RFK was slain that summer, and the peace accords fell through that fall, which we survivors now know more about, to our additional pain, and we had to face the inevitable. After boot camp, he was home three weeks for Christmas before deployment, and it was a blessed time for us, but the days were also now soaked in unnamed fear. We went to movies and out to eat, took drives and our long walks, spent time at Hermann Park again, saw friends, enjoyed New Year's Eve with them. We did our best, but there was a pall over us we tried to push back through staying busy and holding on to one another in its darkening face.

Then he was deployed: first to Okinawa for a short time, then Danang. He landed in the middle of the Tet Counter-Offensive; next, Operations Pipestone Canyon, Oklahoma Hills, and the Summer Offensive. He never wrote about the war, though: instead, he wrote about how beautiful Vietnam was despite the war, yet how much he wanted to come home; he asked how Houston sports teams were doing, wanted details on how my classes were going for me in my last year of college. I sent him care packages with requested socks because Marines run through them in the bush; packets of oat meal and kool aid because the water was bitter; cookies, brownies, and anything else he mentioned in his letters--especially pictures from home. How I wish we had the computer and phone technology we enjoy today: we could have had so many more pictures as well as emails and texts. I think Michael would have loved the technology, and we would have made excellent use of it. Still, we wrote nearly every day, Michael's letters coming in batches as he could get them out, and our letters comforted us through the now stark separation. Just as when he was here at my side, his concern in his letters home was taking care of me, which he did even from Vietnam: just as he would take care of his squad the following summer--but this time giving his life to save his Marine brothers. 

Michael's funeral was with full military honors, September 9th, the day we were supposed to meet on his R&R, and six months before he was due to come home. Years after his death and the war was long over, the Wall was finished in DC. I made a pilgrimage there to find his name and collapsed immediately when I did; it was stunning, overwhelming, and I have felt that onrush of grief each time I have visited since. A kind veteran friend was with me and caught me; as I sobbed, he assured me that Michael is with his men and waiting for me. So sweet and compassionate. But the loss from my life of this gentle man I adored and who loved me, too, is an anguish decades later that still crashes suddenly into me and has never subsided: it is only endured. 


After loved ones die, too many people, usually those who have not yet suffered, urge those of us left behind to "find closure"; they talk incessantly about "closure," which is a hollow word. There is no such thing when the beloved dies, nor should there be; there is no end to the pain, only enduring it. I miss Michael as much today as I did that day decades ago when I began howling like Lear when the word came he was gone. Perhaps I miss him even more because with time and life's experiences, I am even more aware of what I lost—what we lost. I grieve most for Michael: he did not get to come home, marry his Joanie, go to grad school, go on walks with his wife and his dog, have kids, see his nieces and nephews, sail his boat, enjoy all the new technology, read more books, see the Astros win the World Series, see Star Wars, come home to “the new airport” (Bush International being built at that time), fill each day with loving and being loved. He missed everything, lost everything. It breaks my heart. 

We who are left behind must deal with the sudden, complete, shocking disappearance of out beloveds from our lives: they are gone, no longer standing in front of us, walking toward us, sending letters to us, making plans with us. They are no longer there where they were before--and are supposed to be. They simply, shockingly disappear. Somehow that word is more painful than “died”: they just disappear. Forever. We survivors have to "go on," live the rest of our lives without the lost loved ones, and often feel we must not make others uncomfortable with our losses. The families of Vietnam Veterans also had to endure the public's turning their backs on our loved ones as well as their families. For years, I could not talk about Michael because so many people did not want to hear about "that war" and treated our veterans with contempt. So I silently loved him, comforted by my memories, and remained proud of him: for his beautiful soul as well as for his valor. It was only with time--decades--that the hurts suffered by the Vietnam Veterans' families after the war began to heal.

And I "went on" as survivors are told we must; we know full well we have no choice but to do the best we can, and we try: yet we never close off our loved ones, who, after all, did not want to leave us and were cheated of the lives they dreamed of, destroyed by the cruelty of war. Yet Michael still took care of me even after he lost his own life: because of him, I was able to survive financially, go to grad school, and become a college professor, all as we had planned together. Now I take care of him as became my destiny, which we could not have known in those idyllic days: I have spent my life making sure Michael is not forgotten, that Michael is remembered as he deserves to be. He was a hero in Vietnam that day, and people are alive this day because of him. But he was also my husband, my best friend, the sweetest, kindest man I have ever known, loved by so many who also lost him. I know I am blessed to have been loved by this extraordinary man who, like all veterans, simply wanted to come home--but who could not, would not leave his wounded brothers behind. I wish you had known him, for he remains the most wonderful person I have ever known in my now long life. And he remains in my life that beautiful young man in Vietnam, longing to come home; that beautiful young man of the last summer: laughing, walking toward me; that beautiful young man I love and miss: My Marine, My Hero, My Husband—My Michael. 

"When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun."
--Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Michael's USMC Citation for Valor: Bronze Star with Combat V

Michael's Official Bronze Star Certificate

He also was awarded the Purple Heart and a half-dozen other medals.
He was the squad leader, a born leader, and
hoped to be promoted to Sgt that fall had he lived.

Part of Michael's squad: Greg Curen on the left, Charles R. LeBoscet in the middle, and Michael on the right, 20# underweight after months in the bush and three weeks in Da Nang hospital with malaria. Greg sent me the photo in 1998 with a lovely letter about his friend, Michael. All 3 served with the famous VietNam First Marine Division, Mike/37. The photo was taken in August 1969 on Hill 55 before the terrible battle near Chu Lai. Charles was killed the week before Michael's death.

Michael with his beloved grandmother before deployment

The Memorial I Take Care of Now for Michael