Michael Clinton McCain

Staff Sergeant
Army of the United States
17 September 1941 - 09 May 1968
Birmingham, Alabama
Panel 57E Line 029


Distinguished Service Cross


Purple Heart, Good Conduct, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign


The database page for Michael Clinton McCain

26 Jun 2008

SSG E-6 Michael McCain, killed in action near Det A-244 Ben Het, 9 May 1968. This is an account of the events as I understood them. I was operating the camp radio that night and part of the following morning.

I am Jack Williams (Sgt E-5 John T. Williams, RA 14892864). In early may I was transferred from A-242 Dak Pek to A-244 Ben Het as an 05B4S radioman. The team had just finished relocating from Dak To to Ben Het, though some equipment remained to be moved and the many of the bunkers, including the TOC, remained uncompleted.

One week after my arrival on the team, SSG McCain and the new XO, Lt. Leopold, were on a mission with a company of about 80 Montagnards west of Ben Het, looking for signs of tanks and heavy infantry closing in on the Ben Het camp. We were continuing to lay the first anti-tank minefields in Vietnam as a response to the events at Long Vei and the report of tanks across the border.

On May 8, McCain's Montagnard company made significant contact, and then took up positions atop a prominent hill. I think this hill mass was 4 clicks southwest of the camp, south of Highway 512. In the early morning of 9 May, when the area was blanketed with fog, the company was assaulted by North Vietnamese regulars. Montagnard survivors later reported that after fighting off the first assault, many of the CIDG scattered. Both Lt. Leopold and SSG McCain were wounded, the Lt. in the legs and McCain in the jaw.

McCain reportedly (from Montagnard testimony) was trying to carry the LT but finally took up a position in a bomb crater with 2-3 Montagnards who stuck. He attempted to call for air support but his wounded jaw prevented him speaking on the radio. He then attempted to send information for air support by keying his radio in Morse code.

I heard that Montagnard sources reported that he twice personally repelled follow-up attacks by the NVA, killing many. His position was finally overrun and he was killed, possibly by a grenade. LT Leopold was reported captured by the Montagnards, and I always assumed he died. Much to my surprise, a few years ago I discovered his account of capture, imprisonment and subsequent escape.

SSG McCain had many friends in one of the gunship companies at Dak To. Some were reportedly very desperate to fly to his rescue, but they were forbidden to lift off because of heavy fog over the Dak To airstrip. This prohibition was supposedly inexplicably continued even after the fog had lifted entirely in the Ben Het area. The gunships subsequently arrived after SSG McCain's position was overrun.

Third hand sources reported that McCain's gunship friends were much affected and a confrontation of sorts with the commander who prevented them from flying ensued. Whether they could have altered events even if they arrived in a more timely fashion is problematical.

From a Det A-244 teammate,
Jack Williams

A Note from The Virtual Wall

Captain Stephen R. Leopold, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was with Staff Sergeant McCain, was captured. Although kept in a POW compound in Cambodia for 18 months, CPT Leopold eventually was moved to Hanoi and was released on 05 March 1973. He later became a member of the Wisconsin legislature.

APO San Francisco

13 June 1968



1. TC 320. The following AWARD is announced posthumously.

Michael Clinton McCAIN, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army
Detachment A-244, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces

Awarded: Distinguished Service Cross
Date action: 9 May 1968
Theater: Republic of Vietnam
Reason: The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Michael Clinton McCain, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Detachment A-244, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces. Staff Sergeant McCain distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 9 May 1968 as Special Forces advisor to a company-size Vietnamese force on a combat mission near Dak To. When his company was hit with intense rocket and mortar fire from a numerically superior force of North Vietnamese Army Regulars, he quickly established a defensive perimeter. The insurgents launched a devastating ground assault from three sides of the unit's position, and Sergeant McCain exposed himself to withering enemy fire in order to rally his men. Although wounded, he fearlessly continued to engage the determined attackers. Informed that the senior advisor had been seriously wounded, he decided to remain behind with the man although his company had been ordered to withdraw. Fighting a furious delaying action against the insurgents' onslaught, he enabled his troops to reach safety. He was mortally wounded while gallantly and unselfishly placing the lives of his men above his own in the heat of battle. Staff Sergeant McCain's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Authority: By direction of the President.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
a Det A-244 teammate,
Jack Williams

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 26 Jun 2008
Last updated 11/13/2010