Michael Melvin Spark

United States Marine Corps
09 June 1927 - 15 January 1969
New York, NY
Panel 34W Line 010


Navy Cross

Purple Heart, National Defense (2 awards), Korean Service, Vietnam Service, RoK Service, RVN Campaign medals

The database page for Michael Melvin Spark

05 Jul 2003

From first to last, more than just my twenty years' of service were affected positively by Colonel Spark. As a Captain, he was my first Commanding Officer (1st Amphib Recon Co). He accepted me for membership in his company despite my recent punitive reduction in rank and some suspicion that I might be a "wiseass". He sent me to my first service school; he promoted me two ranks in less than one year. It was his trusting acceptance of who I could be that turned my life totally around.

I attended his wedding in 1956 in San Diego, and corresponded with him intermittently for a few years. I visited him and his wife in 1962 when he lived near Washington. It was next to impossible to be "friends", given our separation in rank, but that's the way I thought of him.

It was no different near the end of his life. Before becoming CO of Third Marines, he had been the G-2 of the Third MarDiv in Dong Ha. When I checked into the division, I had just finished the Vietnamese Language Course at Monterey and was scheduled to go to an Interrogation-Translation Team. The G-2 held OPCON over all the specialist teams in the Division, so when a new officer (by that time I was a Captain) checked in, he was expected to meet with the G-2.

Colonel Spark remembered me, expressed his regard for my being again under his aegis, and assigned me to be the new G-2 of Task Force Hotel, a task-organized headquarters holding forth at Fire Support Base Vandegrift, out in the mountains of Quang Tri Province, just below the DMZ. I had relieved a Lieutenant Colonel, and my new bosses, a Major General commanding and a Colonel Chief of Staff, were not particularly pleased that a Captain had been assigned to the job. Colonel Spark assuaged their doubts, I found out later, and cleared the way for the most challenging and rewarding job I ever had - ever!

As a frequent helicopter rider with the Division CG, General Davis, Colonel Spark was in our headquarters almost daily. By radio, I talked with him several times daily about one intelligence problem or another. He listened to my ideas, encouraged me to think independently (the term "outside the box" hadn't become popular yet), and supported me with every intelligence asset available to Task Force Hotel's area of responsibility.

When he left 3rd MarDiv HQ to become CO of the 3rd Marines, I thought my days of serving in a billet way above my rank would end. Not so! He had left good words behind him, and I stayed in the job.

When he was killed, I made the trip to Dong Ha to attend the memorial service, and cried - for only the second time since I had become a Marine.

I think nearly daily of his ability to motivate people, to get the best out of everyone associated with him, his incredible personal mental abilities, and his absolute dedication to tough jobs performed in difficult circumstances.

Even now, at age 75, I cannot envision what my life would have been like had he not touched it. I'm glad to be leaving this note somewhere where perhaps others may read it and reflect on the effects that really good leadership can have on the fortunes of others.

From a friend,
Jock MacKenzie

The President of the United States
takes pride in presenting the

Navy Cross


Michael Melvin Spark
Colonel, United States Marine Corps

for service as set forth in the following


For extraordinary heroism while serving as Commanding Officer, Third Marines, Third Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with operations against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam on 15 January 1969. During a multi-battalion search and clear operation in the vicinity of An Hoa, Colonel Spark exhibited outstanding courage and presence of mind in the midst of violent combat action. While commanding a bold, highly imaginative, mobile operation in the mountainous terrain, Colonel Spark directed an assault against heavily fortified enemy positions. After ensuring that his men were properly positioned, Colonel Spark went airborne, by the use of a helicopter, to observe and direct the operation. During the process of the operation, it was necessary for the helicopter to descend, and as the helicopter hovered over the landing zone, which had been hastily cut out of the jungle, the enemy took the aircraft under automatic-weapons fire. Despite the enemy fire, he defiantly continued the personal direction of his men until finally the helicopter was hit and caused to crash. As the helicopter impacted, the enemy continued firing upon it, killing all the occupants. Throughout the entire operation, Colonel Spark placed requirements for full and direct support of his combat elements above any concern for his own personal safety. He spent the majority of his time with his forward-most units in order to effectively control the action. This enabled him to maximize exploitation of many situations, and served as an inspiration to the officers and enlisted Marines of his command. By his intrepid fighting spirit, daring initiative, and unswerving dedication to duty, Colonel Spark upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Notes from The Virtual Wall

When this memorial was first published, the only thing certain was that four Marines died when the helicopter in which they were flying crashed:
  • Col Michael Melvin Spark, CO 3rd Marines, HQ Co, 3rd Marines
  • Lt Col Ermil Lee Whisman, CO 1/12, HQ Bty, 1/12 Marines
  • Sgt Maj Ted Ernest McClintock, HQ Co, 3rd Marines
  • LCpl Frederick Daniel Kansik, HQ Co, 3rd Marines
That much was certain - no questions. And there was more certainty, but also some unanswered questions. The loss of these four men is addressed in several places:

Although the tempo of combat had receded for some and some support bases were closed, for others the action merely shifted. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 3rd Marines and the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines had moved southwest of Da Nang and came under the control of the 1st Marine Division's Task Force Yankee in Operation Taylor Common. On 15 January Colonel Michael M. Sparks, Commanding Officer, 3rd Marines, a man respected and admired by his chaplains, was killed when his command helicopter was shot down near An Hoa. Also killed with him were Lieutenant Colonel Emil [sic] L. Whisman, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines; Sergeant Major Ted E. McClintock, 3rd Marines Regimental Sergeant Major; and Lance Corporal Frederick D. Kansik, Colonel Sparks' field radio operator. Memorial services were held at both An Hoa and Dong Ha, the 3rd Marines rear base. The service at An Hoa was conducted there despite the booming of nearby artillery and the roar of combat aircraft overhead, because of the measure of respect in which the deceased were held.

Sweating and Praying (1969-1972)
A Chief of Naval Education & Training publication

While on visual reconnaissance south of FSB Maxwell, an Army UH-1H helicopter received automatic weapons fire causing it to crash and burn. On board were Colonel Michael M. Spark; the regimental sergeant major, Ted E. McClintock; the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Ermil L. Whisman; and Colonel Spark's radio operator, Lance Corporal Fredrick D. Kansik. All, including the helicopter's Army crew, were killed. Colonel Paul D. Lafond assumed command of the 3d Marines, while Lieutenant Colonel Roddey B. Moss took over the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines.

U. S. Marines in Vietnam, 1969: High Mobility and Standdown, Chapter 6
(Washington, DC: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1988)

Although U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1969 states that "an Army UH-1H helicopter" was involved in the loss, and that all aboard the aircraft were killed,

  • The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots' Association database did not reflect the loss of an Army UH-1H and crew on 15 Jan 1969;
  • The USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Association indicated that a UH-1E (BuNo 154762) from HML-367 was the aircraft in question;
  • The HML-367 site didn't list any casualties on 15 Jan 1969;
  • The VHPA database concured that UH-1E BuNo 154762 was lost on 15 Jan 69 with two aircrewmen wounded in action but gives no other details; and
  • The casualty database shows only four Marines killed in action in a helicopter crash on 15 Jan 69 ... the four men named above.
Since then, the USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Association's Historian, Alan Barbour, has done some extensive research and determined that it was indeed an Army helicopter - UH-1D tail number 66-16205 from HHC, 212th Aviation Battalion. His evidence and conclusions are contained in the USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Association report.

Eight men, not four, died in the crash:

  • HHC, 212th Avn Bn, 1st Avn Bde
    • CPT William A. Currence, Santa Clara, CA
    • 1LT Nicholas J. Swidonovich, New York, NY
    • SP4 Francis H. Corwin, Somerville, MA
    • SP4 Ronald D. Slayton, Sikeston, MO

  • HQ Co, 3rd Marines
    • COL Michael M. Spark, New York, NY (Navy Cross)
    • SMAJ Ted E. McClintock, Seattle, WA
    • LCPL Frederick D. Kansik, Livonia, MI

  • HQ Btry, 1st Bn, 12th Marines

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Channing Prothro, former CAP Marine
Last updated 08/10/2009