Steve Cottrell

Steve Cottrell, Mike Company, 3/5 November 1966 - December 1967 I was probably the only person who joined the Marines planning to serve with Mike Company. My best friend, Bill Mulcrevy, was six months older than me and joined the Marines when he turned eighteen. A couple of days after I turned eighteen I was at MCRD in Platoon 266. I knew that Bill had been assigned to M/3/5, so I requested an 0311 MOS and hoped I could catch up with him somewhere.

While I was waiting at Camp Lejeune for a spot in Staging Battalion to open up, Bill was wounded on COLORADO and medevaced back to the States. Even though I couldn't do it with him, I still wanted to serve with the outfit I had heard so many great things about.

We shipped out sometime in late October 1966 from El Toro. I figured out how units were being assigned and stood in the right lines to get to the 1st Marine Division, then the 5th Regiment, then the 3rd Battalion, and begged for Mike Company.

I spent my first night incountry with Jim Johnson, a friend of Bill's that I had met when Bill brought him home to visit. Jim really should have been sent home after being wounded severely on HASTINGS. We were assigned a bunker overlooking the South China Sea. It must have been at Division or Regimental HQ. I remember them serving us coffee and sandwiches at around 0200. That was the last time that happened.

(See also Operation HASTINGS)

Steve Cottrell, M Co. 3/5When I finally got to Mike Company I was assigned to be a company radio operator. I spent most of my tour two steps behind Skippers J.R. McElroy and J.D. Murray and got to see first hand what it takes to be a great Company Commander.

Frank Jurney and Steve Cottrell, M/3/5

Frank Jurney and was within our first month incountry. Frank was the oldest non-com in the company and probably the only enlisted guy with a degree. He was in a platoon first (not sure which one) then became the company driver.

Frank and Steve


From left: Michael Callahan (KIA 9 Nov. '67), Steve Cottrell, Chuck Goebel, Kevin Kelly
(Picture courtesy of Kevin Kelly)

Chuck Goebel, Steve Cottrell, Kevin Kelly
(Picture courtesy of Kevin Kelly, Mike Callahan may have taken this one)

Picture taken during Operation SWIFT
(Picture courtesy of J.D. Murray)

Operation ESSEX

The night the NVA ambushed us on ESSEX, Capt. Fretwell, Mike Callahan, myself and about fifteen other guys got caught on the trail below the village we were trying to take. Mike was carrying the company radio, and crawled up next to me trying to get to Capt. Fretwell. As he did, he was killed by the machine gun fire that was raking the trail. If he hadn't of been next to me I feel certain I would have got it. Mike was a great kid, and will always be in my heart.

That same night within minutes after Mike got hit, the NVA rolled a Chi-Com grenade down from the village above us which landed on my back, and the Marine behind me knocked it off into the rice paddy below us. I would sure like to know who he was and thank him again for that.

That night on the trail on ESSEX was the worst night of my life. They were shooting at us from directly above, rolling hand grenades down on us, dropping mortars next to us, and raking the trail with machine gun fire (that's what got Mike). The guy that knocked the grenade off of my back survived, Capt. Fretwell survived, and one other fellow up the trail. The FAC got it, our corpsman got it (I'm hoping we can get his name out of the Nov. 67 Unit Diary)...he was only fifteen feet or so from Mike and I. After I had done everything I could (I called in artillery on every trail out of the village towards the mountains), I crawled along the trail checking for wounded and whispering my name as I went. I was feeling for warmth, but everyone was cold except one guy, and as I got close he rolled over to show me the .45 he had under his chest... he said it was a good thing I was whispering my name because I almost got my head blown off.

Received a Purple Heart from a Chi-Com grenade...shrapnel in my arms, and the worst piece about 1/4" above one of my eyes.

Just off ESSEX

The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in presenting




for service as set forth in the following


For heroic achievement while serving as a Radio Operator with Company M, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On the evening of 8 November 1967 during Operation Essex, Company M was conducting operations in Quang Nam Province when it suddenly came under heavy automatic weapons fire and mortar attack from a well entrenched North Vietnamese Army unit, scattering the company and mortally wounding the company tactical radio operator.

Quickly assessing the situation, Corporal COTTRELL displayed exceptional courage and composure as he exposed himself to hostile fire while running to the fallen man and while vainly attempting to save the Marine’s life. When the radio operator succumbed from his serious wounds, Corporal COTTRELL immediately retrieved the radio and carried it to a covered position where he exhibited outstanding technical skill by operating both the company and battalion tactical nets.

Working calmly despite the continuous mortar barrage, he called all the scattered units until he had reestablished company communications. When he had accurately established the location of the separated elements, Corporal COTTRELL skillfully advised each of its relative position and coordinated the movement of the units to form a consolidated company perimeter.

Although continually exposed to enemy fire in order to better observe and control the movements of the various elements of his company, he steadfastly monitored the radio net and urged strong and coordinated efforts to repulse the enemy. His rapid analysis of the situation and his encouragement to isolated elements contributed materially to the morale of the men and their ability to repulse the North Vietnamese assault.

By his bold initiative, sound judgment and unwavering devotion to duty at great personal risk, Corporal COTTRELL was instrumental in preventing the enemy from overrunning the Marines and upheld the finest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”

Corporal COTTRELL is authorized to wear the Combat “V”.

For The Secretary of the Navy



Steve Cottrell and Bill Mulcrevy
3/5 Reunion 2003

Nancy and me...daughter Heather and me

Life since Vietnam has been great. I went back to school when I got home and then became a National Park Ranger. I worked in Olympic, Grand Teton, Death Valley, Carlsbad Caverns, Lake Mead, Point Reyes, and then back again to Lake Mead. In 1985 I left the Park Service and started an environmental consulting firm.

I have been married for almost twenty-five years to a great lady named Nancy (who I met while leading a hike at Lake Mead), we have a beautiful daughter, and a ten month old grandaughter that lights up our life.

Hailey (my grandaughter) and me

Reunion in Philadelphia with the Callahan Family November 2002
Nancy and Steve Cottrell with Dierdre Callahan and Sheila Callahan Thompson

On 9 November 1967, Michael Callahan was Killed In Action during Operation ESSEX. Thirty-five years later, Michael's sisters, Dierdre and Sheila, and several of the Marines who served with Michael, met up for the first time. The Callahan sisters invited these Marines to attend a very special Memorial to was an incredible reunion that celebrated the brief, and as Dierdre says, "irreverant life" of a young man who blessed the lives of all who knew him.

Steve Cottrell's Message to Michael Callahan's Family and Friends

Mike’s spirit has been in my heart for the last 35years. Sometimes I’ve thought about him daily and sometimes I’ve gone weeks without a thought….but never longer than that.

Up until a few years ago I had a constant reminder of Mike.

Not long after he joined Mike Company, he wrote his Mom and asked her to send him a knife….not just any knife…he knew exactly what he wanted. It was a Puma knife with a handle carved out of bone or antler. It was the kind of knife you would use for hunting. The day it arrived, he strapped it on his calf and there it stayed until it came to me for safe keeping.

As soon as we got back off Operation ESSEX I wrote Honey a letter….I had hoped it would still be around, but it’s not….and told her how proud Mike was to be a Marine, how strongly he felt he was doing good, and that I had his knife and would send it to her.

I rotated home just a few days after I wrote the letter. I talked to Honey once after that. She had sent a telegram to my folk’s house checking to make sure I had made it home safe, and I called her to tell her that I had.

Life got busy and time passed, and I never mailed the knife to Honey.

In 1971, I came here to Philadelphia with two missions….see Kevin Kelly and get the knife back to Mike’s Mom. I called the Callahan Company in the Ledger Building…that was engraved in my mind….but when I asked for her there was a long pause and then one of Mike’s sisters came on the line. She told me that Honey had died and I could tell she wasn’t able to talk to me.

That knife traveled the country with me for over thirty years.

In 1997 I decided that the best thing to do was to take the knife to The Wall and leave it there with a letter telling the story of the knife, on the 30th anniversary of Mike’s death, so that the Smithsonian would pick it up and catalog it and a little piece of Mike would be around forever.

As I started thinking about what I wanted to say Deirdre’s name popped into my head. Thirty years later and I still remembered one of his sister’s names. I did an Internet search and up she came.

I called her with some trepidation. Vietnam was long ago and I had successfully moved it way down in my psyche. I was worried about bringing the past up for both of us. But we ended up having a great talk. I also explained my plans for the knife and Deirdre asked that I send it to her instead. Deirdre passed the knife on to Mike’s nephew and namesake Michael.

I’ve had one other thing through the years that has brought me great joy and comfort and those are the pictures of Mike that Frank Jurney sent me right after we got home. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that Frank.

I made copies of the pictures for Deirdre and her sisters. Deirdre told me she had not seen Mike’s smiling face for many years. You’ve seen some of those pictures today.

I have still never made it to The Wall. But every time I see it in pictures or on TV I look for Mike’s name.

One night I was watching PBS and there was a promo on for something and it started with a shot of the full wall and kept zooming in. I started scanning for Mike’s name as soon as I could make out individual names. They zoomed from a hundred names to ten, and then five, and then three, and finally Michael J. Callahan filled the screen. Out of the thousands who gave their lives they picked Michael J. Callahan to single out.

Like all of you I remember Mike as a happy full-of-life kid. And he really was a kid. He was just a few months past his eighteenth birthday when he arrived in Vietnam. I was an “old guy” of nineteen and a half.

Mike was the youngest Marine in our company. Around the beginning of November we started talking about the upcoming Marine Corps Birthday. Wherever you were in Vietnam, if you were a Marine, you got a hot meal and birthday cake on November 10th. Tradition called for the youngest Marine to cut the cake. We were looking forward to it.

Two days before the Marine Corps Birthday we were ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army. We were pinned down on a trail by just about every type of armament they had. Mike was carrying the “Company” radio and I was between him and Capt. Fretwell the Company Commander. He knew that he had to get up to Capt. Fretwell and even under the intense fire he started moving up the trail. As he crawled up next to me he got hit by the machine gun fire. It took a lot of bravery and courage for him to make that move.

Two days later we were holed up in a village and the rain was pouring down. In the distance we heard choppers coming. They carried our hot meal and birthday cake to us. That was the first time I felt Mike’s spirit in my heart.

As I look out here today at all of you I see that I am not alone. In his short life Michael Callahan touched many hearts and his spirit lives on in all of us. I am proud to have been his friend.

Reunion in Philly
Michael Callahan Memorial page

3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Reunion 2003
La Grange, Georgia

(click to enlarge)

1. Nancy and Steve
2. Steve with Skippers JR McElroy (left) and JD Murray (right)
3. Steve and Bill Mulcrevy with M Co. 3/5 guidon
4. Kevin Kelly, Frank Jurney, Steve Cottrell, JD Murray

1. Steve and Chuck Goebel
2. Nancy and Brad Reynolds
3. Beth and JD Murray with their daughter, Paige
4. Bill Vandegriff and his son, BJ

1. BJ Vandegriff and our 3/5 Colors
2. Chuck Cummings and Kevin Kelly
3. M Co. 3/5
4. 3/5 Ladies

3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

Steve Cottrell presenting Frank Jurney with NCO sword won at the raffle

" I won the sword....Nancy was holding my tickets and went up and got it. Frank and I were in line together to buy tickets. I bought mine first and then he said, 'Boy...that sword is going to look good on my mantle,' and I said 'Well, the bad news is I've got the winning ticket right here...but the good news is when I win it, I'm going to give it to you.'"

Getting down with John Stewart and Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio, Aug. 2004

This was part of a Fantasy Camp...spending three days with these guys and another twenty rabid Kingston Trio fans....singing, laughing, and just feeling good being around these two. The Kingston Trio was Bob Shane, John Stewart, and Nick Reynolds. Nick is one of the nicest, friendliest, kindest people you could ever meet. He's 71 and the ladies fall all over him because he is so adorable. Being around John is also a kick...he's my all-time favorite songwriter. Bob was also there and sang Scotch and Soda solo (as he always has) on Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday, for the first time in almost forty years, he, John, and Nick sang together...they did Early Morning Rain and brought the house down.

Mike 3/5 website

Operation DESOTO

Operation UNION and UNION II 

Operation COCHISE

Operation SWIFT

Operation ESSEX

(Background by Redeye)