Mike Browning was born in Iowa. After he was finished with high school, he moved to Huntington Beach, California, where he basically became a beach bum. He had no job and he was not in school. One day, after a day in the sun with a friend, his friend had asked him if he wanted to join the war. Browning figured that he was going to be drafted anyway so he might as well just join. That was the last he saw of the friend for three years.
As he joined the service, at nineteen years old, he was just a boy, but like all boys who joined the army, he came out a man. Mike fought bravely in the Vietnam War, facing dangers around every corner. He served in the army from November of 1968 until August of 1971.
Basic training was extremely tough for Mike Browning. He was in training for eight weeks and during that time, there was sparse to eat, little to no sleep, and the training itself was brutal and fatiguing. Training taught Mike, along with others, to work as a unit, as a team, because it’s not just you, you have to look out for out there, it’s your team as well. He watched boys, some at nineteen, like himself, and some younger by a year, break away from their individuality and work together. After his basic training, Mike Browning went to an aircraft school where he learned to be a door gunner, which is a person who is shooting a large gun from the right side of the aircraft. He finished his training and was deployed to Vietnam.
Mike Browning spent eleven months in Vietnam. It was a beautiful place and if he could go there on vacation, he would. He was positioned at the right side of the helicopter, and spent most days flying in an ATL 47 Helicopter. Later he was promoted to flight engineer and crew chief. All had different jobs accompanying the title but, mainly, what they did was carry essentials, such as; food, water, med packs, and other supplies, and rescue passengers and pick up soldiers. Their basic mission was to rescue down helicopters and if they were ever ambushed then they needed to be ready. In Vietnam, the helicopters were so loud that you wouldn’t hear if a bullet was coming out you. One time, Mike was standing with one foot up on the chair when a peculiar sound whizzed by his ear. He looked down to find a bullet had come straight through the chair and barely just missed his foot and head. No one knew they were being shot at until they really saw it.
Browning’s helicopter was able to lift 20-30,000 more pounds than other helicopters and had a large white triangle on the bottom of it. It made Browning and his crew a large and very easy target. However, the bottom of the helicopter was iron plated to do less damage and to hide the giant triangle at the bottom. Browning and his crew would still to fly under harsh conditions such as extreme heat and complete cloudy days. They would fly over the tumultuous clouds but could not see below them. This created a problem as they wouldn't know if the Vietnamese were down below shooting at them.
Vietnam was “A lot of Monday boredom followed by sheer terror.” There were times where routine, routine, routine was endless, besides the fact when you accidentally flew into enemy lines. One time, Mike’s fleet was hovering up one side of a mountain and didn’t know the Vietnamese were on the ground and attacking the helicopter. Mike and his fleet were always flying in and out of danger like this and dangers unknown. Sometimes they would return to the base and find bullet holes in their helicopter where there weren’t bullet holes to start with in the first place.
Mike flew countless times, day after day, but sometimes he would be on guard duty, or have to patrol the grounds of the base. He and other soldiers feared night rocket attacks in the middle of the night. They would have to wake from their slumber and go out on reactive force. Each company had a section of the perimeter to make secure and protect because usually after a night rocket attack, a ground attack followed suit. The Vietnamese wouldn’t really do much harm when attacking at night, they would just harass United States soldiers by threatening them. Sometimes no ground attack happened, but the threat was always there.
“Chemicals are always used in wars. They just always are,” Agent Orange was a mission to defoliate the jungle, so that it was easier to see the enemy during combat. There was no ‘frontline’ in Vietnam; it was all guerrilla warfare and Agent Orange was to aid them in cutting down the jungle. However, while it helped at first, in the long run it had caused many problems as people began to return home and continue with the rest of their lives. Many of the soldiers faced medical issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and various other problems that came as a result of using the chemical during Vietnam.
Trouble was not something unknown to Mike. He had his fair share of Article 15’s, which were disciplinary slips. Usually it was something such as extra work or suspending something for a couple weeks. A memory Mike recalls was when one of the six times his helicopter was shot down in a field surrounded by a herd of water buffalos. Mike had to set up his gun because when a helicopter goes down, you have to guard it, in case anyone tries to attack it and take it away to use for them. So Mike set up, not really doing anything but lazily pointing his gun at the water buffaloes. “Water buffalos are the meanest animals in the entire world.” For some odd reason they did not like the smell of soldiers. Mike’s leader said to him very specifically not to shoot the water buffalo. He headed the request until the water buffalo gave off a few warning signs and charged at him. Unfortunately, he had to shoot it down. Of course, Mike got in trouble for it.
While it was particularly boring in Vietnam, with all routines and daily tasks, there were a few times that were actually fun and broke up the monotonous routine of war. Mike liked to test run the new helicopters and land them on the carriers. During his down time, Mike and his friends would grab a bayonet and some plywood and shoot. One time, when his friend was carrying side arms, he accidentally fired it, grazing Mike on his side. He was okay after. Another way Mike and his friends would spend their down time was they went to the beach. Temperatures were over 105 degrees and humidity was sometimes 95% in Vietnam. The soldiers would have to take salt pills because they would sweat everything out. The beach was a place to let off steam. Mike even found a surfboard that he and his friends rode. He had his entire team sign it as well. Sadly, to this day, Mike does not know where the surfboard resides anymore.
The Vietnam War wasn’t essentially a war. It was more like a giant, major police action by the United States. The U. S. were aiding the South Vietnam in fighting against the North Vietnam. The north were communists and were wanting to take over the south who were democrat. It was a political war and if the Congress had left the decision making to the Generals, Mike believes, the war would have been won, and won a lot sooner. Instead, the south, the United States, lost. The United States just up and left, leaving South Vietnam to, basically, fend for themselves. Mike recalled that as they were leaving, some southern Vietnamese people clung to the railings of the helicopter because they were so desperate to either escape with them or convince them to stay and continue fighting. Mike believed the war could have been won in a month. 58,000 American people died for nothing in a pointless police action that lasted from 1962 until 1975.
The Vietnam War was not a popular thing to talk about and was greatly disliked by many people. The media had portrayed U. S. troops killing babies and destroying villages. It portrayed them as being monsters, which was most definitely not true. However, the war was not like one bit. People who were drafted would leave to college so that they wouldn't have to enter the war. Those who fought, upon returning home, they were spit on and called rude names. There was a total lack of respect for them. It was only in the last ten years that Mike has become actually proud of fighting in the war. He’s joined a few organizations such as The Patriot Guards, which holds a ceremony for the fallen vets who have died and have no family, and American Legion Riders, which are well known for their charitable work, for local children's hospitals, schools, veterans homes, severely wounded service members and scholarships.
One of the happiest days of his life was when they said he could return home. Mike Browning had been in Vietnam for 11 months and the United States army was letting him go home 30 days early. Browning was certainly a lucky soul. Unfortunately, just two weeks after he had returned home, Mike’s entire ship was sunk. Browning would have been on that ship if he were not given the thirty days early leave.
As with all wars, they're known for changing many people psychologically and mentally and, due to Mike vowing that he will not let one year of his life ruin the rest, Mike Browning was one of the few soldiers who were not affected by the atrocities of war. He returned home, married his wife, and returned to life as normal. While he suffered no harsh after effects of the war, Mike did take away one thing from it. With all wars, people go in as boys, small and weak, but they come out strong, and tall. Like Mike Browning, they come out of wars as men.