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.
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.
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.
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.
also Operation HASTINGS)
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
Jurney and Steve Cottrell, M/3/5
Jurney and Me...it 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.
From left: Michael Callahan (KIA 9 Nov. '67), Steve Cottrell,
Chuck Goebel, Kevin Kelly
(Picture courtesy of Kevin Kelly)
Goebel, Steve Cottrell, Kevin Kelly
(Picture courtesy of Kevin Kelly, Mike Callahan may have taken this
taken during Operation SWIFT
(Picture courtesy of J.D. Murray)
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.
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.
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.
a Purple Heart from a Chi-Com grenade...shrapnel in my arms, and the
worst piece about 1/4" above one of my eyes.
and me...daughter Heather and me
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
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.
(my grandaughter) and me
Reunion in Philadelphia with the Callahan Family November 2002
Nancy and Steve Cottrell with Dierdre Callahan and Sheila
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 Michael...it 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.
Cottrell's Message to Michael Callahan's Family and Friends
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.
until a few years ago I had a constant reminder of Mike.
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
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.
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
got busy and time passed, and I never mailed the knife to Honey.
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.
knife traveled the country with me for over thirty years.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Callahan Memorial page
Battalion, 5th Marines Reunion 2003
La Grange, Georgia
(click to enlarge)
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
2. Nancy and Brad Reynolds
3. Beth and JD Murray with their daughter, Paige
4. Bill Vandegriff and his son, BJ
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
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
down with John Stewart and Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio, Aug.
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.
Operation UNION and UNION II