In one afternoon, Mike Verrill went from an 18-year-old junior at Edward Little High School to a member of the United States Marine Corps. It was just that simple.

“My buddy turned to me and said he was going down to see the Marine recruiter that afternoon and did I want to come along,” Verrill recalled. “So I did, and three days later, I left for Paris Island.”

With two older brothers who had already served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, Verrill said he was tired of hearing so much about the draft, “and I wanted to find out for myself. When I was talking to the recruiter, I signed up for a two year program, and I knew I could walk away after that if I didn’t like (military life).”

He was already pre-disposed to joining the Marines, having seen a big difference in a “scrawny” kid he knew who had been a part of the program. “Besides,” he quipped, “I figured if Gomer Pyle could do it, so could I.”

Apparently, Verrill was also one of those scrawny kids because he didn’t graduate from boot camp the first time around. “I was at Boot Camp for five-and-a-half months,” he said. “First, I wasn’t physically fit, so they sent me to PT (Physical Training) camp. Then after I was there, I ended up with a stress fracture from doing some of the drills, so I was sent to a medical platoon. For me, Boot Camp was like home!”

Verrill observed that although the drill sergeants yell at the new recruits, “when they were off talking to each other, I knew they cared about us.” The rough treatment, he said, is so the new marines won’t break under pressure. He did finish boot camp, but while he was home for his two-weeks leave, there was a funeral to attend. PFC Albert Belanger of Auburn had been killed while serving in Vietnam.

“A lot of people came up to me and offered to get me to Canada, or if I went to prison, they would bring me anything I needed, but I told them I was OK and I was going to go,” he recalled. “I knew I was headed for Vietnam, and I’d rather see myself go than someone who had a wife or child to worry about.”

Verrill was assigned to the Helicopter Support Team. “I was the person who directed the ‘birds’ in and out; we were assigned to work with the company. We had a gunnery sergeant who made sure we did things right. During training, the pilots would purposely make mistakes we had to correct.” After chopper training, it was on to California for “jungle warfare” school, followed by a stop in Okinowa, Japan, and finally a TWA flight to Da Nang.

“The heat just pushes you back into the jet,” he recalled. “The first night we were there, a mortar attack hit the runway.”

Leaving Da Nang, Verrill headed for the jungle landing zone, located on top of a mountain. “You learn real quick that the way the news talks, every day is bad; well, there are a lot of times when you can relax some.” Nevertheless, vigilance is a daily requirement.

“My first reality check can when the last chopper of the day was late and the Company had already moved,” he said. “When we looked around, we were all alone. They say the trails at night belong to the Viet Cong, and the U.S. owns them during the day. Once the chopper was in, we had to go through the jungle – make our own trails – to catch up. We eventually caught up with them, but I was looking past a rice paddy and asked a friend, ‘What are all those lights?’ He said they were the North Vietnamese and they didn’t know we were there …”

Verrill says for the most part he liked what he did during his time in Vietnam. “I was in charge of getting the wounded out; we also told them where they could and couldn’t shoot and how to make their approach. I felt protected by them,” he said. They knew you were looking out for them. I never lost a bird.”

As far as his future was concerned, Verrill didn’t plan on making it out of Vietnam alive. “I just did my job,” he said. “I liked it that way. I didn’t worry. I felt bad for the people who saw a lot of killing. It was a wasted war.”

About two months before Verrill was supposed to leave Vietnam, he ended up in a Da Nang hospital with “malaria, typhoid and something else with a really long name my medical records have disappeared “

By the time he recovered, he had only a month of duty left, so for the remaining time he served as an MP (military police) in Da Nang. His other option was “tower duty, which is boring and not real healthy.”

No long lasting friendships came out of his tour of duty. “You get to know people, but you don’t make friends,” he explained, “because if something happens You also look at the ‘newbies’ with skepticism. Will they be good at what they do, or will they cost you your life?”

Nothing he did in Vietnam really translated into a career once he got back to the States. “I had a hard time when I got back,” he admits. “I never had a fear of death like I did once I got home. I did go back to high school. I wanted to finish my education, but I had no idea where I was going from there.” He continued on to college, majoring in art at the University of Maine at Augusta. “I liked it; I’m a hands-on person.” Today he drives a big rig for Dragon Concrete.

He says he has emotional scars from his experience in Vietnam. “I don’t communicate well with people,” he says, “and I’ve been married three times. I always felt I couldn’t complain, that I had my arms and legs, but my scars are inside.”

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