Sunday, May 08, 2016
“The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited”
In a book published more than a decade ago, “A Patch Of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered,” Michael Archer told the harrowing story of his part in “the most protracted, costly and consequential” battle of the U.S. war in Vietnam.
It is also the story of his best friend, Tom Mahoney. They both enlisted in the Marines in 1967, and on July 6, 1968, under strange circumstances, Mahoney was killed by the enemy after he apparently walked outside the perimeter of an outpost established on a hill near Khe Sanh. The area was being evacuated and his body was not recovered.
“The place had been wrested fifteen months earlier from an entrenched North Vietnamese battalion in a bloody four-day battle that resulted in scores of dead and wounded, and was held at great additional cost of life as the linchpin to Khe Sanh’s survival. As the rhythmic popping of the helicopter blades receded into that July night, the agony of Hill 881 South finally came to an end.”
But Archer’s own agony did not end. He had to know if Tom’s final resting place could be located and perhaps his remains repatriated. His book helped him make connections, both here and in Vietnam, and the quest was on. The story is told in “The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited” ($21.95 in paperback from Hellgate Press; also for Amazon Kindle).
Archer (michaelarcher.net) lives in Reno; his brother, Brian, is a Chico State University grad and managed Madison Bear Garden for a time; and one of the central persons in the new book is Chico native Steve Busby, who signed up for the Marines in 1967 only to witness Tom’s death the next year.
Part battlefield account and part detective story, the book chronicles frustrations with official government efforts, connections with Mahoney’s family, work with a Vietnamese psychic who claimed to be in touch with Mahoney’s “wandering soul,” and meetings with former enemies who wanted to honor Archer’s friend. The riveting story is brilliantly told.
Tom’s fate is prised out of the fog of war and there comes for Archer “something that had been missing for the last forty years,” a measure of peace.