Michael Forrester Stearns

Staff Sergeant
Army of the United States
16 September 1943 - 06 March 1967
San Francisco, California
Panel 16E Line 049


Silver Star


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


The database page for Michael Forrester Stearns

12 Jul 2000

The casualty database indicates that Michael died on March 9, 1967,
but that is not the date he died.

Please read the following from his friend...

Mike was actually killed on March 6, 1967 with MSGT Tommy Sanchez after they led a reaction force to the site of an ambush of a patrol out of the Special Forces camp at Minh Long (A-108) in Quang Ngai Province. Mike was awarded the Silver Star for the action.

He was my best friend in Vietnam and I miss him every day.

Jim Ferguson (A-107, Tra Bong)

He was my older brother...

In High School he was quite the ladies man. He was prone to taking out ALL the girls, even if they had a boyfriend. This resulted in many of these guys beating the daylights out of him. I remember many times at parties in the Mission District someone would come up to me and say "Are you Mike Stearn's brother?" When I would say yes they would try to beat on me. You see I was much bigger and harder, in those days, to beat on. I went to Polytechnic High School in San Francisco and it was just as tough as Mission.

One night I was just coming up the steps to a party and I heard a commotion in the alley nearby. It was three guys beating on Mike. I jumped them from behind with vengeance and ran them off. This I believe motivated him. He was embarrassed that his "little" brother could ever defend him. He joined a Karate school in the Mission District the next week. He did great and loved it and this is where he gained the confidence and poise that I remember.

He married Joanie right after graduating Mission High School in San Francisco but he settled down and became quite the husband and father of Greg. The next time I saw him was on Christmas leave [I was in the Navy] in Fort Bragg. He was the perfect father and a great soldier. He was really into it. At that time I think he was with the 5th Special Forces. I went to a jump demonstration and he was jumping out of a low flying helicopter with 5 or 6 others and landed right on the place marked. As I remember he was with the Golden Knights at that time. He loved to show off. Mike was game for anything and ready to show it. By this time he had gained a 5th degree black belt and became even more centered and focused.

When he was younger we had some disagreements. Mostly over clothes ... I would "borrow" them and he would make me pay, by beating up on me. This lasted throughout the high school years. Because he was about 5'8" tall, had a good build, black hair, and with the good looks the girls swarmed after him. I believe because he was a smooth talker. Mike had the intelligence to do whatever he wanted. People followed him without question.

When he was about 12 he was building miniature tube radios out of discarded hearing aids. This is just about the time the transistor radio was the craze at school. He said that it gave the same size and reception as the more expensive transistor radios but at a fraction of the price. We lived in a poor area and this made him a great pal of many of the local crowd.

Then came the call to Vietnam. Just before he went I saw him and his family at our mother's house in San Francisco. My brother Dennis and I tried to convince him to stay away from Vietnam; we also tried to get him loaded and talk him out of going. Not Mike. I remember how calm and cool, understanding and patient he was with our ranting. He was not just a gung-ho soldier, but also a very mature human.

In 1965 all of that was over. He made it clear that he was a very mature man and that he was in for the long haul. I always thought he was crazy, but thinking back on that day I know now that he was the "calm person in a crisis". This impressed me. I tried to learn this inner calm. I would need it in the years to come.

Joanie had heard from Mike that he was on his way home March 5th or 6th from Da Nang Airbase. She was so excited that he had "survived". She went shopping with Greg and my sister. When the word came about his death it was compounded by the fact that the Army called and asked for "Mrs. Stearns". my mother answered and was told that he was gone. She was hit very hard and was left with the terrible task of letting Joanie know. The family went numb. We went different directions. Each looking for a way back.

I was in the Navy stationed at Jacksonville, Florida aboard DLG-13. I had just come back from a cruise and called home to hear that Mike was on his way to San Francisco. He had survived Vietnam. At that moment I thought "Well I don't have to worry about him any more. He made it". To this day, I believe that we all let our cosmic guard down for that moment and this allowed negative karma a chance to enter our lives.

We were about to set out for Vietnam and I had less than one year remaining on my tour. I came home so fast that my orders did not catch up with me and right after the funeral I was arrested by the Shore Patrol at my mother's house.

The story that I heard is that he was on a rescue mission and that he volunteered to lead a "Team" to the ambush site. He was at the airbase waiting for his hop. A good friend of his was in the ambush and pinned down by the VC. The rest is fuzzy.

One year from that date Joanie was traveling from Denver, Colorado, where she had just graduated from college, late at night with Greg asleep in her lap, to Pueblo, Colorado. The police report stated that she hit the only concrete column in 50 miles. Both were lost. Since Joanie's family was not on friendly terms with our family much of the history and photos of their life together were also lost to us.

My family just went into a cocoon after these events and are only now starting to come out of it with birth of the next generation. My sister Susan named her son Mike and he is a fine young man with his head in computers just like his Uncle. Dennis, my younger brother, has remarried and he has a two-year-old, Forrester, named after his Uncle. Forrester has that same look and smart way about himself as Mike did when we were growing up. My daughter Tracy Michelle is married and pregnant. Due in August of 2000. IT'S A BOY. He will not be named after his Uncle Mike because it is a new era but I want him to discover on his own who Michael was and what he stood for and maybe gain that inner calm that Michael had mastered.

If you know the full story please write and let us know. I sent for his records and would like to set up remembrances for him within the family.

He received the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his heroism. He gave more than his share to make this country proud of him but it is so sad that very few people remember him for the gift of his inner calm and his 'all knowing smirk'. Our Dad passed away in 1962. He was so proud of Mike and Joanie. Greg would have been 20 this year.

Thank you for listening.

Brian Stearns

A Note from The Virtual Wall

Minh Long is located in the Phuoc Giang River valley about 23 kilometers south-southwest of Quang Ngai City. On the morning of 06 March 1967 a patrol from the Special Forces camp, led by two US soldiers, operating in the valley about 8 7 kilometers north of the Minh Long airfield was ambushed by a much larger VC force. The South Vietnamese irregulars broke under the attack and scattered. A reaction force was promptly dispatched under command of Master Sergeant Joseph Sanchez with Staff Sergeant Michael Stearns as his second-in-command. On arrival in the area they rounded up about 30 members of the original patrol and set them to securing a landing zone in preparation for reinforcements. When MSg Sanchez thought he had enough troops - about 60 men all told - the force set off area of engagement.

They had moved only about 500 meters when it too came under heavy attack. These troops held but were forced to withdraw from the killing zone. After they had pulled back a short distance, MSG Sanchez realized SSG Stearns and two Vietnamese sergeants were missing - and he went back after them. He was killed while trying to reach them.

At this point there were four missing Americans, two from the original patrol and two from the reaction force:

  • MSG Thomas J. Sanchez, Pasadena, CA (Dist Svc Cross)
  • SSG Jacob G. Roth
  • SSG Michael F. Stearns, San Francisco, CA (Silver Star)
  • SP4 Burt C. Small, Savannah, GA
C Company's Commanding Officer's recollection of events is attached to a C Co, 5th SF Group letter dated 09 Apr 1967:

SSG Roth was rescued on 06 March. On 07 March a CIDG patrol captured a Montagnard soldier who, when interrogated, acknowledged being a part of the ambush force and said that one American had been captured. When the bodies of MSG Sanchez and SSG Stearns were recovered on 09 March it was clear that SP4 Small had been captured.

Searches of the area were not successful - the VC had withdrawn into the mountains, taking SP4 Small with them - and he was never seen again. Small was carried as Missing in Action until 31 Oct 1977, when the Secretary of the Army approved a Presumptive Finding of Death. His remains have not been repatriated.

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 12 Jul 2000
Last updated 08/10/2009