When talking about the Vietnam War and his involvement in the conflict, Gaston County native Mick McMahan’s face reflects a myriad of emotions. Pride in his service to his country is deeply tied to the way he lives his life.
And in that, you feel the deep affinity for the brave men who fought alongside her.
To know McMahan is to appreciate his mission and his obligation to help his country better understand the contributions of ordinary soldiers and their sacrifices. The more we look at Vietnam, the less it makes sense to most Americans.
It was the first war run by politicians. It contributed to the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s mighty legacy and cast a cloud over Richard Nixon’s tenure. What is clear is that there were over 2.7 million men who fought in Vietnam, leaving 58,000 dead and 150,000 wounded.
In a recent interview, McMahan pointed out: “From 1965 to 1975, the United States dropped twice as many bombs on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as during all of World War II in Europe and Asia.
“The politicians did not understand the enemy in Vietnam, nor their tactics nor their motives. This was not the war they had fought in the 1940s, and the commanders on the ground were largely ignored by their leaders in Washington.
And therein lies the story of a card reader’s induction into the US Army Field Artillery’s OCS Hall of Fame. What excites McMahan are these young men who served in Vietnam. “Many do not know that the majority of men who fought in Vietnam were not drafted but volunteered for service.
“The average age of American combat GIs in Vietnam was 19… young men who should have just started a job or a family. Instead, they were fighting a war that was both difficult to understand and equally difficult to execute.
Through McMahan’s eyes, it’s a story that needs to be told. He is the author of two bestselling books that tell the story, “A Breach of Faith” and “An Act of War”. But McMahan goes beyond the written word by consistently reaching out, not just to the men who served with him, but to all veterans.
McMahan was a field artillery officer with Company B, 2/7th Cavalry during a period of intense combat along the Cambodian border, northwest of Long Binh. “Many of us are alive today because of the American artillery and the professionalism of this officer,” said Mick’s commanding officer, retired US Army General Barry McCaffrey.
“Captain. McMahan was one of the finest combat officers I have ever met in my life. What really made Mick special was his ability to assess the combat situation. He was an expert map reader allowing us to precisely locate and coordinate artillery and air support; influencing our mission so that we are not overrun by the enemy,” the retired 4-star general said.
In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army was moving and massing troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Cambodia to attack the Long Binh military base. “At that time the base was the largest in the world and the enemy attack would have been disastrous.” The 2/7th Calvary’s mission was to engage the enemy as they entered Vietnam and weaken their advance towards the base.
“Listen, there were no GPS or satellite positioning applications in 1968, and Mick wasn’t in a bunker directing air support. He was up front with our troops coordinating 105 artillery , 155, 175mm and ARA during those battles. He was in the field with enemy AK-47 fire passing close to his head. Mick’s accurate depiction of enemy locations saved many lives,” McCaffrey said.
“Gen. McCaffrey is one of the greatest military officers of our time. I was a 21-year-old boy from Gaston County doing what I was trained to do and benefiting from Captain McCaffrey’s outstanding combat leadership,” McMahan said.
“I could read a map and as we walked through the jungle I noted the terrain, used my compass, calculated distances and kept a journal of our progress. My job was more difficult in the hostile environment and enemy fire. In some cases, combat distances were less than 100 yards, so absolute precision was paramount,” he said.
McMahan also saved many lives, said Randy Durham, FA OCS Alumni Chapter Secretary.
“Our society has semi-annual meetings, and we all remain in awe of this man. We now fully understand that many of us are alive today, not only because of the might of American artillery, but because of “because of the abilities of this brilliant map reader. I am proud to have nominated Captain Michael K. McMahan for the OCS Artillery Hall of Fame Class of 2021 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma,” Durham said.
“Currently there are over 1,000 members of the Hall of Fame, and they all have a story to tell,” Durham said. “We want visitors to understand the significance of the OCS School at Fort Sill from 1941 to 1973, essential to the military and to the nation.”
Hall of Fame members include General Tommy Franks, who led the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11; Gen. John Shalikashvill, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997, and the Army’s first African-American airman, Major Charles Brown, an artillery liaison pilot.
Joining in McMahan’s Hall of Fame nomination was Army Col. Bill Jordan, a member of the HOF. Jordan commented that “Michael McMahan displays all the qualities of the citizen soldier who led the Gunners into battle. Mick was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action on November 6, 1968; the bronze star; The Air Medal for air assaults in known enemy territory; and, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
“The officers with whom he served describe him not only as one of the finest officers they have observed, but also as one of the finest men.”
McMahan was successful in business and is admired for his integrity and wisdom. He was one of the founders and first president of the NC Society of Certified Financial Planners. He was listed in Barron’s as one of the top 100 independent financial planners in the United States. His service in the community includes Chairman of the Board of the Children and Youth Alliance as well as the Backpack Weekend food program.
As a board member of the National Benevolent Association in St. Louis, McMahan led the development of assisted living facilities for seniors of modest means in eastern North Carolina. .
He taught Sunday School for 26 years at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. He has been married to his high school girlfriend, Carla, for 55 years. In McMahan’s nomination by General McCaffrey, who was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the West Point graduate noted in an account he called, Bottom line, “My infantry soldiers, to this day, are grateful to Mick for his bravery and very intense combat skills.And it doesn’t surprise me at all, he is a nationally recognized and trusted figure in investment and capital management.
“On reflection, and it may seem simple, Mick’s incredible ability to read a map, come up with a plan and follow it is pretty much what made his life so successful.
“Gaston County, North Carolina, Company B 2/7th Cavalry, the U.S. Army, and our nation are better off because Captain Michael K. McMahan knew the importance of reading a map.”
The induction ceremony for the OCS Field Artillery Class of 2021 will take place in March 2022.