L. Michael Mints, United States Army
When Fairview resident, L. Michael Mints was 20-years-old, he enlisted with the Army. While in high school, he was already a pilot and had worked at an airport. He said, “I had just started college. I had the opportunity to fly for the Army without a college degree. I left San Jose and took off on an adventure of a lifetime.”
He did his basic training at Ft. Polk in Louisiana. He was pre-admitted to qualify for flight school. He went to helicopter school at Ft. Wolters. He said, “It was tough…we were totally reprogrammed to become an officer. For six weeks we saw no TV, newspapers, magazines…nothing that wasn’t military issued.”
He was married in 1968. In 1969, at Ft. Rucker in Alabama, he graduated from advanced helicopter training. He was home for three weeks then, “I left for the promised land, also known as Vietnam. I wanted to fly. I love to fly. I learned to fly a fixed wing in high school before I learned to drive. We landed in South Vietnam for a week of adjustment. We adjusted to the temperature and humidity.”
He was assigned to the 21st Signal Group where he provided support needs for that group. They were based in Nha Trang. Mints described his average day, “We started at 5 a.m. with breakfast, briefing, and preflight. I flew a UH-1H, a single engine, turbine helicopter that had a copilot, crew chief and door gunner.” He adds that he also supported the CIA clandestinely and flew into neighboring countries to drop off friendly locals. He vividly describes a harrowing trip, “During an insertion into a neighboring country, after I dropped a team into the landing zone (LZ), I had power failure. I only had one engine. I saw three things before my eyes; my wife, instruments and calling for mayday. The triple layered forest was rushing towards me. I got the restart at 850 feet, I had fallen 7,000 feet. Contaminated fuel had caused the problem. From that day on, I smile, because things can always get worse. It gave me a profound attitude for the rest of my life.”
Mints served for three years, 10 months, five days and 27 minutes. He was terminated after the war due to reduction of service. He reached the rank of CW2 Aircraft Commander. He said his major contribution to the military was successfully completing his missions. He flew between 200 and 250 missions, many of which were overnight. In addition to priority one medivac missions, he carried ammunition, electronics and food. He said most of the signal sites (where he landed) were on top of mountains with sheer drop offs on all sides. He said these landings and take-offs were sometimes done while being shot at. The presentation of his wings in February of 1969 is one of the events that stand out most during his military career.
He repeatedly commented on the excellence of training he received in the Army. He said, “Every bit of my day was precision based.” He said that even the bath soap and bed were checked for precise angels. He feels that this attention to detail was instrumental in preventing catastrophe and gives this example: “On a mission, I had just pulled out and felt a lateral vibration, just a little bit. I was supposed to take off and land into the wind... I declared a precautionary…there are four bolts that hold on the transmission, three had broken.”
Upon his return to the United States, he was stationed at Mineral Wells for nine months where he monitored the training of flight candidates.
Asked if he could turn back time, and given the opportunity to serve or not serve, he said he would choose to serve. He follows that affirmative with influencers that could have made his answer negative. “When I returned to Travis Air Force Base, I was bussed to San Francisco. I was wearing my polished shoes, crisp uniform and ribbons. A girl spit on me. She called me a murderer. Told me I dropped napalm and killed innocent women and children.” “Three years ago, I was diagnosed as a diabetic as a result of agent orange.” “I have COPD as a direct result of agent orange.” However, the positive outweighs the negative: “It gave me self-assuredness in the business world.” “I can be dropped off anywhere in the world and survive.” “I love to travel.” “It was so cool to look (while piloting in Vietnam) in the middle of nowhere and see a massive temple complex in the jungle.” “Camaraderie.” “I feel I can jump into any political conversation because I’ve earned that right.”