Michael Joseph Whitaker

Specialist Four
Army of the United States
03 August 1951 - 25 June 1971
Los Angeles, California
Panel 03W Line 089



Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for Michael Joseph Whitaker

13 Nov 2006

My good friend, Donald W. Gray, Plattsmouth, Nebraska was best friends with Mike Whitaker. On the night Mike was killed, they had flipped a coin, a dime, to see which side of the foxhole each of them got. Mike was killed, and Don lived. Several years ago Don asked me to write a poem as a tribute to his friend. It took me nearly a year, but I wrote it. Don found his friend's name on The Moving Wall when it rested here in Skidmore, Missouri in 1996. He finally found some peace.

I will add the poem, I hope it doesn't exceed the word limit. It is called simply "Mike's Poem."

From a friend of his friend,
Cheryl Huston

I finally found the courage
     to walk up to The Wall
And when I found your name,
     my tears began to fall.

In my mind I drifted
     to another place and time
When our futures were determined
     by the tossing of a dime.

In my mind I fight again
     the battle where you died
And I feel again the anguish
     and the pain I've tried to hide.

If the coin had landed differently
     would the end have been the same?
Or would you be here instead of me,
     crying as you touch my name?

A thousand times I've tossed the coin
     and fought that battle in my head
But it always ends the same, my friend,
     you walk among the dead.

But your memory is safe with me,
     tucked away with guilt and pain,
And here in this hallowed place
     my tear drops fall like rain.

I'm sure I'm not the only one
     to ask the question "Why?"
Why did I come back alive?
     And why did you have to die?

So I want to say "I'm sorry",
     but the words are hard to find
To tell you you'll live forever,
     in my heart and in my mind.

I'd trade you places if I could,
     and I would have at that time,
But who would have thought our futures
     rested on a dime?

A Note from The Virtual Wall

Fire Support Base Fuller was on Hill 544 about two miles north of Highway 9 towards the western end of the Cam Lo Valley. On 24 June 1971 the North Vietnamese Army mounted a major attack on the base, beginning with a 500-round artillery barrage from guns emplaced within the DMZ.

On 25 June five Americans were killed in Quang Tri Province.

Two were infantrymen, one killed in an accident and the other by an explosive device.

Two were artillerymen, killed by enemy "artillery, rocket, or mortar" fire - SP4 Michael J. Whitaker, Los Angeles, California, and PVT Wayne S. Murphy, Dallas, Oregon, both from B Battery, 1st Bn, 39th Artillery.

The fifth was a Cobra gunship copilot who was hit by ground fire just southeast of FSB Fuller - CPT Albert P. Carden, Morgantown, WV, from D Co, 158th Assault Helo Battalion.

If the UTM coordinates in the Army's TAGCEN file are correct, Bravo 1/39 wasn't at FSB Fuller but rather in the Cam Lo Valley southeast of FSB Fuller. They were still well within range of the NVA guns in the DMZ, and of course the reverse was true too - their M110 self-propelled artillery pieces could reach the NVA as well. Captain Carden was hit while operating between FSB Fuller and B/1/39's position and could have been flying in support of either artillery unit.

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 13 Nov 2006
Last updated 08/10/2009