In the eerie Pre-dawn Darkness of September 23, 1969, seven U.S. Marines and a Navy Hospital Corpsman stealthily make their way back to the remote village of Binh Son in Vietnam. They are returning from a night sweep of the perimeter, called a Combined Action Patrol, designed to protect the villages from the wrath of hated “Charlie” – the Viet Cong. Suddenly, the jungle erupts with flashes and a hail of bullets from Russian made AK-47’s. The eight men dive for cover. The firing continues. Then dies. “Charlie” melts into the bush. The fight is over. And life is over for one.
Killed in that brief, terrible firefight was the hospital corpsman, Michael L. White of Lenexa, Kansas. He was 21 years and 33 days old.
Left A Legacy
Despite his tender age, Mike White left an indelible mark in Vietnam, in the United States, and the Navy and Marine Corps. He was a hero in the fullest sense of the word. For it was in his off-duty hours that he gave so much of himself. The villagers called him “doctor” as he treated the many maladies of the jungle, from a rough-hewn dispensary of his own design and construction. “Really, all they need is soap,” he wrote home to his parents. A supply was soon sent to him by VFW Post 7397 of Lenexa. From his jungle dispensary he was in radio contact with various doctors at base camp for more serious injuries or illnesses. A 1967 graduate of Shawnee Mission West, Mike had been an Eagle Scout, too. He organized a Boy Scout troop in Binh Son, and soon the little Vietnamese boys, dressed in the scout uniforms, came to learn the values and traditions of scouting. Mike had ambitions to be a doctor. He had just “re-upped” for six years, and was planning to go to radiology school after his current tour of “Nam”. The American Legion Post No. 407 of Lenexa, Kansas is proud to honor the name and memory of Michael L. White, Hospital Corpsman Second Class, United States Navy.
Mike White – A True American Hero
Mike White was a healer, not a destroyer. If he had survived Vietnam he would probably be a successful doctor today. That was his goal, and his talents led in that direction. But Mike was a patriot, like his father before him. In 1966, he saw that his duty was in the service of his country. He enlisted, but because of a deficiency in math credits was denied graduation with his class at Shawnee Mission West High School. He made up the credits and technically graduated with the class of 1967. School administrators denied him the right to accept his diploma in uniform – the war obviously being unpopular with the academicians of the period. So Mike put boyhood things behind him, and devoted his next years to serving his country. Mike epitomized the goal of most patriotic Americans then – to aid the disadvantaged people in their fight for freedom. Altruistic, to be sure, but truly American. He fought for them, alongside his Marine Corps buddies, and in his off duty hours provided medical care for the people of the villages. Perhaps the one faded, poor-quality photograph that best exemplifies Mike and his work is where he is seated and surrounded by the children of the village. The “children of war” always gravitate to the kind and gentle – whatever the war, whatever the country, it is reflected in their smiles.
Mike treated a variety of minor injuries, diseases and illnesses. For more complicated procedures there was always the radio to the doctors at base camp. He became “Doctor Mike” to all who visited his crude dispensary. Mike took his medical skills on the road too. With two Marine guards and a radioman, the four-man patrol walked from village to village to aid the sick and injured Vietnamese. Mike laughingly referred to “Dangerous House Calls”. Mike was proud of what he was doing, and conveyed that pride in letters to his parents. He once wrote that “all these people really need is soap.” That remark prompted a shipment of soap from the VFW post in Lenexa to the impoverished villagers.
The memories of the Boy Scouts, himself earning the Eagle rank, prompted Mike to organize a Boy Scout troop in the village and teach the values of scouting to the Vietnamese boys. Mike White’s efforts and accomplishments never made the front page; what he did for the villagers of Binh Son and surrounding villages as well has long been forgotten (Binh Son probably doesn’t even exist today), even the photographic record is hazy. But what he did, all at the tender age of 21, will live forever in the hearts of his countrymen, American Legion Post No. 407 and in the memory of his family.
Mike White was every inch a hero.