Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Mike Hale, who served as a radio operator during Vietnam and now provides military honors at Veterans’ funerals.
Mike Hale was born in Muskegon, Michigan. After graduating from Marmion Military Academy and completing a year of school at Muskegon Community College, Hale enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1965.
In October 1966, Hale deployed to Vietnam. He primarily served as radio operator for the 15th Engineer Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division. Though initially slated for a year deployment, he extended his tour by six months. Near the end of his deployment, Hale promoted to communications sergeant. After holding the position for a month, he decided that he was not the best fit for the job and traded assignments with another soldier, Dean Owen. Just a few weeks out from their scheduled return home, a mortar struck and killed Owen. Hale said that he suffered from survivor’s guilt for 40 years after the experience.
While in the process of returning to the United States, Hale’s 18-year-old sister suffered serious injuries in a car accident. He went home several days early in April 1968 and immediately joined his parents in the hospital where his sister was in critical condition. The sudden transition from combat zone to family emergency was a jarring one and Hale had a difficult time expressing emotions over his sister’s accident. This caused tension between him and his parents.
“They didn’t understand that I had just…left a combat zone where people were dying all the time…you don’t have time to process death in a combat zone. You’re just concerned about your brothers and yourself. So, they couldn’t understand…and I don’t know if they ever forgave me,” he said. Hale’s sister survived the accident but suffered permanent, severe brain damage.
Hale discharged in May 1969, holding the rank of sergeant. He attended college on the GI Bill, graduating in the mid-1980s with a bachelor of science in public relations. Before retiring, Hale worked first in radio, then public relations.
In 2008, after encouragement from several Veteran friends, Hale sought help. He received a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. Since then he has attended weekly counseling sessions at the VA which he says has been immensely helpful in learning to manage PTSD in day to day life.
Hale has found his purpose in life in helping other Veterans. He encourages every Veteran he meets to take advantage of the benefits they are entitled to through the VA, even offering to personally help them through the system.
“It’s a way for me to pay back what I’ve received,” he said.
Hale also serves in the Kent County Honor Guard, where he provides military honors at Veterans’ funerals. Since joining in 2013, Hale has rendered military honors for 1,170 Veterans. Additionally, he is a member of American Legion Post, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America.
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Graphic artist: Erin Gallagher