Revealing Men
Revealing Men
One Veteran’s Journey: from Boyhood to the Jungles of Vietnam

Vietnam Veteran Mike Salisbury talks about his journey from rural American to Vietnam.

Randy Flood met Mike Salisbury on a train ride traversing the Alaskan Wilderness while heading to Denali National Park. Despite being what he calls “the aloof traveler strategically attempting to avoid mindless chatter with bored extroverts,” Flood was drawn into a conversation with Salisbury. “I was captivated,” he says, “by the exquisite mix of his gentle inviting demeanor contrasting his life narrative of being the quintessential man’s man.”

Salisbury is a 77-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War. The son of a minister, he grew up in Michigan where he developed a love for agriculture and wrestling. Salisbury joined the ROTC as a junior in high school. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Utah State University, majoring in agricultural economics and finance. At the same time, he received a commission in the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant. His first permanent duty assignment was in the Panama Canal Zone to an Infantry Brigade. From there, he served as a captain assigned to Military Assistance Command – Vietnam (MAC-V).

As a psychotherapist and Director of the Men’s Resource Center, Flood often sees men who wrestle with the effects of trauma and PTSD. Salisbury’s openness about his experience from rural Michigan to the jungles of Vietnam touched him. He invited him to share that story on the Revealing Men podcast.

Excerpts are below (edited for length and clarity). The complete conversation is available on these platforms: Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Apple. Warning: Graphic details and rough language used.

The Seeds of a Leader

Flood: Talk a little about your training into manhood or masculine identity in that era that you grew up in, training as an athlete, and then, that move into ROTC.

Salisbury: My bringing up, I was very fortunate. I had a great dad who was very much a man’s man and he was well-known for bringing men into the church. Which was a big need because a lot of our churches had mostly women in them. The guys didn’t come. They were hunting or fishing or whatever. So, my dad figured out that if you were going to bring men into church you had to be “a man.” And, he was.

He was raised on a farm. Worked his way first as a pipeline installer, installing gas pipelines, which is something all of his brothers did, or working in the steel mill in Albion, Michigan. We didn’t lack for masculinity in our house. It was four boys in our family, one daughter. We grew up with one, not much modesty, and two, with a lot of bravado and a few broken couches from wrestling.

Flood: So that’s where you learned to wrestle?!!!

Salisbury: Much to my mother’s chagrin. She was about a five-foot-tall German lady and she kept us pretty well in line. She could take us down or she could outrun us. Either way. For the longest time, we didn’t give her any grief.

My dad’s mom was the farmer on their side because Grandpa worked on the pipelines all the time. I loved to go see Grandma. She always had something going on. She was just a wonderful person to be around. She treated her grandkids way better than she treated her own kids. Thank goodness! I loved Grandma.

She first showed me that you could get by on almost nothing. Back in the old days, cow feed came in fabric sacks that, once you’re done with the cow feed, you could separate the seam on the sack and make shirts, make skirts, or whatever. And she did. She used every cloth sack she got. I think that she invented the layered look because she would often have two or three layers of shirts or skirts on.

Grandma never had an indoor bathroom. She had a flowing well and she had a wood stove. And behind that wood stove was the nicest place to come in the wintertime to get warm. Just crawl in the pile of quilts behind the wood stove and warm up. It was wonderful.

Lessons Learned and Remembered

Flood: How did you end up crawling onto the wrestling mat? How did that end up happening?

Salisbury: My first high school I went to was Bath. Which was a really small Class D just north of Lansing. All I had was basketball in the wintertime. I never was a very good basketball player. My coach called me the “triple threat.” He put me in for five minutes, I’d make five points and get five fouls! I wasn’t the best basketball player!

Flood: You liked to make contact, right?

Salisbury: I liked contact sport!

We moved to Eaton Rapids between my sophomore and junior years and I went out for basketball in the two-week tryouts. At the end of the two weeks, before the coach even announced who made the team and who didn’t make the team, [the wrestling coach] put his arm on my shoulder and said “Mike, come with me. I’m going to show you where we’re going to help Eaton Rapids most.” And he took me to the wrestling room. He said, “You’re going to be a better wrestler than you ever will be a basketball player.” That was my introduction to wrestling.

Being Humbled and Moving On

My introduction to humility was to go one win and 11 losses that first year. And I wasn’t used to losing. The last match I won was the one match I won all year. That was a humbling experience for me. But it also taught me that if you’re going to be a good wrestler, you have to work harder at it. And, so I worked really hard at it. Came back the next year and did really well. Qualified for the state tournament and ended up second or third. And I had a chance to go to Central Michigan on a wrestling scholarship.

I got humbled there because both years – my freshman and sophomore years – freshman year, a kid broke my ankle and so I was out that whole year. [The] next year another kid fell on me during drills and separated my sternum. Both happened the last night before the first meet! I made the team both years. Never got to wrestle.

After that, I said “I wanted to be in agriculture anyway.” So I went to see a friend of mine at Michigan State University, College of Agriculture. He was assistant dean [and] my former ag teacher. He got me into Utah State University.

One afternoon I went in to see him and by the time I left, I was a matriculated student at USU in agriculture. I majored in agricultural economics and finance. Got my bachelor’s, got my master’s, and at the same time got a commission in Uncle Sam’s army as a Second Lieutenant.

How to Survive Being Miserable

Flood: So, you did the ROTC, and then that kind of transitioned into being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant?

Salisbury:  Let’s just go back. I had a two-year program in ROTC. I had two summer camps. My first summer camp was at the Benning’s School for Boys or Ft. Benning: home of the infantry. We’re at the Biergarten for underage drinkers so all you get was 2.3 percent beer I think it was. And we’re sitting there and our platoon sergeant was with us. And this one kid— cadet—piped up and says, “Sargeant Jones. How come those kids are crawling around their barracks in their sleeping bags in the middle of the Georgia summer.” Of course, just miserable.

He said, “Well, cadet, you’ll find out it does not take practice to be miserable. I’m not going to have to spend any time training you gentlemen to be miserable. That comes automatically.” He was right. It did. And so, you know, I learned another lesson that was really good in my life: “Being miserable is part of living. Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Do your job.”

The Importance of Male Role-models

Salisbury: Part of the story that’s really critical in my upbringing, I had three dads really. I had my dad, dad. My real dad. I had two surrogates that were fantastic. One was a general manager of the Oldsmobile Toronado Division. (Toronado for all you younger folks was the first front-wheel drive vehicle that GM ever produced.)

Flood: First one?

Salisbury: Yep. First one. And he only had an eighth-grade education and ended up being General Manager. And he was instrumental in my life. He was the dad of a couple of my friends. The other guy was a farmer I worked for. His attitude was, “There’s two ways to do things: there’s the easy way and there’s the way that builds character.” Of course, his way was always the way to build character! He was another instrumental part of teaching me how to be self-sufficient and I call it a “man’s man.”

Flood: I appreciate you mentioning that. I think we have our biological fathers but it’s just how we are gifted by all these other men that come into our lives and provide father energy to us. And mentoring. And to pay attention and respect those elders that surround us and that helped form you.

Jungle Warfare in Panama

Salisbury: My first assignment was in the Panama Canal Zone with the Infantry Brigade.

I got orders to go down there. Went to the Caribbean side of the Canal Zone and our mission as stated was to be the interdicting force if the Chinese or the Russians ever attacked the Canal Zone. We were the disposable force that was just supposed to kind of slow them down until the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne could get there. That was a little bit of a sobering thought. That never even came close to happening. But you knew that that’s what you were there for.

The side benefit is that we were assigned to provide the aggressor force for the U.S. Army’s jungle warfare school which was in Panama.

Flood: So that’s where you learned jungle warfare while you were there?

Salisbury: Yeah. I went through that – it was a three-week course – and I probably did 10 times while I was in Panama. So, I was very familiar with jungle tactics.

Flood: Did you have to do it 10 times? Or you chose to?

Salisbury: We were the bad guys for the people being trained down there. We learned the bad guy tactics as well as the American counter-guerilla tactics. That taught me a lot.

Choosing Vietnam

Flood: So how did go to “Captain?” Was that while you were in Panama or did that happen when you got to Vietnam?

Salisbury: In those days, because they were so thin of junior officers, Lieutenants, and Captains, if we spent a year as Second Lieutenant, we kind of automatically got promoted to First Lieutenant. And, if you kept your nose clean and your bunk made, you made Captain. So, I was Captain about six months before I went to Vietnam.

Flood: How’d you get there? Did someone just say “You have an opportunity to go” and you said, “I’ll go.” What happened?

Salisbury: All the junior officers in the brigade got orders to go to Vietnam at the same time. Now this would have been in ’71. As guys were getting ready to go, their orders would get changed to where they didn’t have to go to Vietnam and they’re reassigned to the States, or Europe, or Alaska, or somewhere else.

When I got my Vietnam orders rescinded, I was disappointed because that wasn’t part of my vision of what I wanted to do. I feel like I’d trained for six years, you know in college and also in Panama in Army training. I’d gotten infantry training. I’d gotten 42-inch mortar training, and I’d gotten language training. And so, you know, I wanted to go.

I called my personnel officer assigned to me at the Pentagon and I said “Change those orders. I want to go.” He says, “We don’t need ya.” I said, “I want to go.” And, he says “You want to go?” And I said “Yah. I don’t want to lay on my deathbed thinking ‘Man, I missed this.’ So, send me.”

On the Ground in Vietnam

Salisbury: I had about four months training before I went over. (I went over early 1972.) And when I got there, there was a quarter-million troops in country. You couldn’t go anywhere without running into our Army groups and Army units.

When I came home at the end of ’72, 240,000 troops had come home. It wasn’t much. There were no organic Army units, like the 82nd or the 101st, they’d all gone. That was a little bit of a problem because I was assigned to what’s called the MAC-V or the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam. Our main role was to provide advisory resources for the Vietnamese soldiers, their units. And because there were not a lot of units there, they used me under several different jobs.

The first job I had was as a MAC-V advisor with the Army unit or the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. And we had some combat missions. And I never like to get too deep into those because I don’t know one, whether any of that’s still classified and two, it’s difficult to talk about.

The first thing anybody asks me is “How many guys did you kill?” Well, I wasn’t there to kill people, I was there to win a war. And so, I don’t talk about that at all.

Risking Life as a Leader

Flood: How many people were you leading? That you had to be in charge of?

Salisbury: Well, it depended. I had eight non-commissioned officers; anywhere from a Sergeant E-5 to a First Sergeant and they were with me and they were really, really good. Then I had a unit of Vietnamese Airborne Rangers which they assigned me as bodyguards because of some of the things that I had done early in my time there, kind of got me in a little bit of hot water with some of the senior military leaders.

One of the first assignments I had was to go in and clean up the graft and corruption in a couple units that the U.S. had there.

Flood: There was a lot of that going on, right?

Salisbury: Yeh, there was a lot of that going on.

Flood: So then, when you clean up corruption, sometimes people don’t like that.

Salisbury: Oh, they didn’t like that! And they had a contract out on me, but …

Flood: A contract out to take you out?!

Salisbury: Yah.

Flood: Because you were kind of like a whistle-blower …?

Salisbury: I was kind of like … yah … a whistle-blower. I was the guy doing the investigating. So …that was interesting.

Flood: No wonder you had bodyguards! They must have been good because you’re talking to me!

Salisbury: I never saw them. They were very good. I knew where they were. I never saw them. They were in civilian clothes. And no one, unless they knew that they were there would really know who they were. But they went everywhere I went.

Flood: You worked with the Vietnamese people, too. Not just the soldiers who were under your command.

Salisbury: They were never under my command. I was advising their commanders.

Flood: Advising their commanders.

Salisbury: Which really, if the truth be told, they were under me because I was generally directing them on any of our missions.

Sensory Memories

Salisbury: I had training in being a forward observer for artillery and also flew around in a little bubble helicopter which I felt very naked in because you know they’re just a plexiglass bubble and a bullet would go through any part of that. But that way I could see the terrain. Before I went out on any mission, I wanted to see the terrain, I wanted to fly over it. I wanted to actually see the terrain on the ground.

Flood: Smart.

Salisbury: Yep.

 Flood: When I was in Alaska, I remember asking you, “Steph and I are going to go up on this helicopter ride. You want to with?” And I remember your answer.

Salisbury: “Nope. I’ve been on enough helicopter rides!”

Flood: “Hell, no! Even the sound of them…”

Salisbury: Oh, the sound, I still … You know the new, the turbine helicopters, jet helicopters, they don’t have that same “rupt pumppumppumppump.” But if I hear a regular helicopter, I always look up to see what’s going on, a place to hide, or whatever.

Flood: That trauma response …

Salisbury: One of the first experiences that traumatized me a little bit — I hadn’t been in Vietnam more than a couple days— I had to fly up to Da Nang and look at a bunch of equipment up there that the army unit was going to abandon and decide what we wanted to do with it.

And so, we flew up there. I had my sergeant major with me (who hated to fly) and myself. And we flew up there and met with the commanders of the army depot at Da Nang Air Force Base. And they had drilled into us that if the rockets start coming in from the bad guys, you take cover.

Well, we were on that airfield and I saw this rocket hit out there about probably half a mile away— fumpf! and a cloud of dust—and I started looking around to see where we’re going to take cover but everybody else is just relaxed. Then the second one comes in a little bit closer—fumpf! I said, “Gentlemen, I know I’m just new here but shouldn’t we be finding cover somewhere?” “Nah. They only shoot three off at a time because if it’s more than that then our radar can lock in on them. And the F4s (which were already screaming off the runway to get to the air) they’ll nail ‘em and put a rocket on them.” I thought, “Well, what if none of that works?!” We never did get a third one. Just two of them came in. But that was my first reality check.

A Convoy into Saigon

Flood: You mentioned your first civilian convoy to Saigon. Say a little more about that.

Salisbury: Another thing the Army thought we needed to do was to contract civilian drivers to come over and drive the convoys full of our equipment because we had just truck load after truck load after truck load of equipment everywhere.

And they sent me up to Cam Ranh Bay which is another big army base on the coast of the South China Sea. We had, I think, 40 truckloads of equipment and we had civilian drivers coming down. I knew we couldn’t make it clear to Saigon in one day because the roads weren’t very good and we couldn’t go very fast.

We got about 100 miles north of Saigon and it was getting dark so it was time to hang up. I had radioed ahead and got permission to pull our convoy into a compound that was big enough to hold us. A Vietnamese Army compound. I stopped the drivers and we had a little meeting. I told them, “Okay, we’ve got another hour and a half to drive and we’re going to be at this regional force compound and we’re going to stay there.” They said, “No. Our contract’s up. We were only supposed to drive eight hours and we’ve already driven nine hours. We’re not going.”

Flood: Oh boy!

Salisbury: I said, “Okay, fine. I’m going to go. My sergeant’s going to go. And my two enlisted men are going to go. Because I want to be safe and sleep tonight. You’re going to get hit if you stay here. I don’t care. ‘cause you’re civilians. I don’t care. You’re not my responsibility. But, go ahead. If you want to camp out here, help yourself. And, whatever you’ve got to eat, you’re gonna have to eat ‘cause nobody’s bringing you food.”

I no more than got 100 yards down the road with my Jeep and there was exhaust firing up and those guys were hot on our trail! That’s the last time I ever heard about the eight hours.

Flood: A little reverse psychology!

Battlefield Tracheotomy

Flood: The other story I remember … we were on the bus and you said you had to do this field tracheotomy.

Salisbury: We were in a skirmish— some people might call it a battle— we had a number of guys that got hit when a rocket came in. Nobody got hit directly but the medics were all busy tending to the guys that were wounded. And a couple of my enlisted men brought in this guy who had been hit in the mouth with some fragments of grenades from the rockets and he couldn’t breathe. And, the one part of our first aid training that we’d had was how to do an emergency field tracheotomy. I listened close to that and thought, “You know, that might be something a guy has to do.”

They brought this young, one of our American guys (and I would have done the same to a Vietnamese). And the first thing you’re supposed to do is clear the airway. That’s the first thing in first aid. And so, we tried to clear the airway and there was just too much damage in his mouth.

Flood: He wasn’t breathing?

Salisbury: He wasn’t breathing.

Flood: Was he struggling for air?

Salisbury: He was struggling for air and you could see he was turning blue. I said, “Put him on his back and hold him down.” And they couldn’t hold him down. It took two guys plus me. I straddle him, my knees on his arms.

And you have to first take your bayonet out. Our bayonets were sharper than razors. And you locate that little “v” right above the Adam’s apple. And you have to slice across the top of that to get into the airway. And then the Army-issued ballpoint pen, you take the bottom of that ballpoint pen off and that was just the right thing to stick in that hole so they could breathe.

And so, I only halfway knew what I was doing, but I knew he was going to die if I didn’t. He was still conscious, the poor guy, cause he saw me coming over with my bayonet and I was holding him down. I’m sure he thought I was going to slit his throat and put him out of his misery.

Flood: Do you think he thought that’s what you were doing?

Salisbury: Yah.

Flood: Okay.

Salisbury: In retrospect.

I made that slit. And, of course, you see the air start bubbling out through that blood. I took that pen and I put it in there and I had one of the other guys tape it in place. And just as soon as it went in, you could see him relax ‘cause air was started going in.

Flood: I remember when you told me. What I thought was just so heartbreaking and courageous for you was that when you climbed on top of him and he probably thought you were putting him out of his misery and you … remember what you said you said to him?

Salisbury: “I’m going to help you. I’m going to help you.”  ‘cause he had to hold still.

Flood: And he did it.

Salisbury: I don’t know that I could have done what he did. I don’t know anything more about him. He was medevacked to Germany, I’m sure. From there to a field hospital in Vietnam and then to Germany. I never heard how he came out. But I knew what we did saved his life.

Flood: That lives inside you.

Salisbury: It does. He’s probably got grandkids now. Just like I do.

But the war was an interesting thing. I tell people that it was my – they say, well, what’s the one thing you’d say about your Vietnam experience? – I say “Well, it was worth a million dollars to me because of what I learned about being a man, leadership, leading people, and being able to deal with devastating situations.”

It was my million-dollar year I wouldn’t give you a nickel to do over again.

The Sights, Sounds, and Smells Remain

Flood:  Are there other sounds and smells that linger on for you that sometimes can be haunting?

Salisbury: Most people, thank goodness, never have to smell a decomposing human body. But that smell is like nothing you’re ever going to smell in your normal life. And, you know, the Vietnamese lost so many soldiers that they’d just pile them up in the back of [an]open truck and head towards their morgues, or their pits, or however they’re going to take care of them. And that smell …I’ll never get that out of my system.

That, and the smell of their fish sauce. They call it “nước mắm” which was distilled, well, it was decomposed fish, then they’d distill it, and use it for a sauce. Now that tasted really good on the food but it smelled absolutely terrible while you’re cooking it! Those are two smells, Randy, I’ll never forget.

Flood: I’m sure. I’m sure.

Salisbury: The other sound I won’t forget is the sound of close air support or F4s, or Warthogs, or whatever coming in to give us close air support. ‘cause you always want to hear that but you never know which way it’ll come from because they come right in at treetops.

I had a client in my non-military life up by Gaylord. They were in the fly path. And whenever one of those jets would come over on a bombing run because their farm was pretty close – within a mile or two of the practice field – you hear that go off. Those are sounds you welcome but you always wonder what’s going on.

The 10-mile Stare

Flood: And I think the way we’re wired, you know, it’s kind of like the fight or flight; all the sensory systems. And I think that you look at the history of trauma and war. I think there was like “war fatigue and shell-shocked.” And I think it was in Vietnam when they finally came up with “War for some guys is just emotionally traumatic.” And they came up with PTSD.

Salisbury: Well, I call it the 10-mile stare.

Flood: You saw that?

Salisbury: We had guys who had been in situations, especially the Vietnamese army guys ‘cause they’d been fighting the war for four years.

Flood: What is the 10-mile stare? Tell me more.

Salisbury: Well, it’s like when you get somebody sitting there looking off across the valley or across Lake Michigan or something and they’re looking but they’re not seeing anything. They’re seeing the inside of their heart or their mind.

And I noticed in my farm class—I was a business consultant for farmers—those guys that would lose their buildings to fires (because a fire in a farm is pretty fast and pretty furious)

Flood: Devastating.

Salisbury: Just devastating. And, you know, for months afterward you go talk to them and they’re looking but they’re not seeing. And I just call that the 10-mile stare.

I never experienced that but …I was really lucky.

Salisbury: I was 26 when I went to Vietnam.

Flood: That maturity probably helped.

Salisbury: And I had a lot of maturity.

Flood: Versus being 18 …

Salisbury: 18. 19. And being raised in the inner city. Or being raised without the advantage of college or some of those other experiences.

Emotion Breaks Through

Flood: I asked you if you watch war movies and you said “Oh, no.” There is a movie [Saving Private Ryan], Tom Hanks who was a platoon leader, a very effective platoon leader leading his guys and stuff. And then he had this moment in the movie where he went behind something by himself and he just wept. And then pulled himself back together and went and led his men.

I just wondered if you saw moments where people— or yourself —where you just had a period to just let the emotions out and then get back and do your job.

Salisbury: Yes, I saw a lot of that. No, I didn’t experience that until after the guys started coming home from Iraq, from Desert Storm.

I was up at the Bangor [Maine] airport and these 200 guys got off a plane (Bangor was the first place the guys flying back would stop to refuel, to call home, and to get something to eat, a little rest from a long plane ride.) And, I saw these guys get off and one of those kids that got off was the grandson of one of my buddies.

Flood: Wow. That hits you, doesn’t it? That’s okay.

Salisbury: Still does.

Flood: What did you see?

Salisbury: Well, I guess it’s what I felt more than what I saw. All that crap caught up with me.

Flood. O.K. so you’re identifying …

Salisbury: I probably cried for a half-hour. Went off in a corner. Just wept.

Floods: Tears that you needed to come.

Salisbury: Thirty-five years! It’s been 50 years now. Fifty-two years! And, you know, as I think back, it’s like yesterday. Some of the sights. Some of the sounds.

Finding Humanity During War

Salisbury: I became very attached to the little Vietnamese kids that’d be in the streets. And we’d be lined up to go to breakfast, chow, or something and they’d come up. They’d want a candy or something. Or I would read to them— even the three-year-olds know English over there— and so they’d bring me their little English readers and I’d sit on the curb and read to them as long as I could take time to do that. And they’d just, they’d just glow you know.

A lot of those soldiers, and probably rightly so, came home hating the Vietnamese people. I came home loving the Vietnamese people. They’re a beautiful people.

One of the things I would do is when I had people in my unit get killed, not Americans but Vietnamese, I would try to go to their wakes. And the Vietnamese wake was really interesting because they only about half-embalmed the body.

Flood: Why was that?!

Salisbury: I don’t know. Maybe to save embalming fluid. And then they would put them on tables out on the front lawn and put colorful robes and stuff around them. They’d have these hired mourners; you know six or eight women would just wail. And if that wasn’t enough, then they wanted to serve you refreshments. And refreshments were always some kind of soda. They’d bring you a glass of orange soda and no ice and the flies are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder on the top of your glass. You’d have to scrape the flies off, drink some soda. I wanted to become a part of that.

Flood: Good for you.

Salisbury: Now that was the same thing that made me have to eat their deep-fried mice in the field or eat dog meat. We’d eat the dog meat; we’d throw the bones on the ground and tomorrow’s supper would come and clean up the bones.

Living (and Surviving) in the Moment

Flood: Did you ever have any what they call “survivor’s guilt?”

Salisbury: Nope.

Flood: No? Okay.

Salisbury: I never felt that.

Flood: I’m glad you didn’t.

Salisbury: I know that that’s a real thing but I was never in a situation that would teach me that.

Flood: I think people who might have lost a number of their compatriots and they survived and it’s like “Why me? What is my purpose in life, that I survived?” [They] kind of burden themselves.

Salisbury: I guess I was never that introspective. I was more pragmatic. It’s what I did. It’s what I had to do.

You gotta let it be in the moment.  That’s another thing that my ROTC sergeant said, “You gotta live in the moment, Mike.” He said, “When you step on that plane, out of Oakland to fly to Vietnam. When you step off in Vietnam, you got a whole different set of rules. And make that switch. The rules of warfare. Don’t get that confused.” “But,” he said, “when you step back off that plane at Traverse Air Force Base or Oakland Air Base, go back to the rules you knew before you left. And don’t forget that.”

From Badass to Wuss

Flood: One thing you told me on the bus. You said, “Randy, I used to be a badass but now I’m just a wuss!” What do you mean by that?

Salisbury: Well, you know when you get out of the Army after being in for four years, and especially Panamanian service. It was tough down there because most Panamanians hated us. The Panamanian military, they hated us because of the Canal Zone. We’d go north into Costa Rica and they loved us. But Panamanians hated us. You get a pretty hardcore, outer shell.

Flood: You have to. But that shell, as you aged, faded? Or?

Salisbury: Well, you got away from that hard life.

Every now and then I have to remind people who want to start pushing me around as an old guy that “You can push on me. You can probably kick my butt. But you better bring your lunch. You better bring your friends. Because you’re probably going to have to kill me before I quit. Because I used to kill people for a living.” And that’s what I tell them. ‘cause I did.

Flood: I’m sure that gets them to be contemplative a little bit!

Salisbury: I’ve had a lot of people back off when I told them that.

Flood: That’s what attracted me about you is that I loved this exquisite mix [Salisbury: “exquisite!”] of being a badass and you’re tender-hearted.

When you talk, I can see your heart, too.

Salisbury: I can still be that badass.

Flood: I know. You can be both. That’s what’s cool.

Salisbury: And my dad was pretty instrumental because even though he was a preacher and he was very tender-hearted towards people, he could be a hard dude.

Flood: So, he had a little of both as well.

Getting Out of Vietnam Alive (Barely)

Salisbury: The closest time I got [to being] killed in Vietnam was my last couple hours in Vietnam.

Flood: Are you shittin’ me?

Salisbury: No. That’s the truth. It was another humbling experience.

When you leave Vietnam, you have to take your gear and leave it at the base, the terminal, to be inspected. We couldn’t take any souvenirs, any military equipment. All that had to be left. They’d go through and pull all that out. I had to drop it off 12 hours before I pulled out and then I had to be back four hours before our flight left.

I was coming on the back road into Tan Son Nhut because it was quitting time and there’d be terrible traffic coming out the main gate. I was coming in the back gate and I was driving my Bronco (because I had a non-appropriated vehicle at that time). Which means it was non-military. It was a civilian vehicle.

This pilot and his moped driver pulled out of a road coming out and run me off the road. It’s either run off the road or hit him. I knew better than to hit him. But, you know, your temper’s pretty quick! And so, I went off into the ditch. I came back up. And, we’ve all seen these ditches along the edge of pavement that can fill up with water and be four or five inches deep or deeper than that? And I said, “Now if I hit that just right and I pick up speed, I think I can spray those SOBs with water.” And I did. I put my left front tire right in that and I just sprayed them for about thirty, forty feet. And then I pulled ahead of them and just acted like I didn’t even see what I did.

Well, about two-hundred yards down the road I heard this Vietnamese shouting “Dại úy!” which was “Captain” in Vietnamese. I didn’t do anything. And he said, “Dại úy!” again. I looked over and the pilot had his .45 pulled, aimed right through my Bronco window.

Flood: Boy!

Salisbury: And, of course, his driver was just driving his moped. And I said “Oh shit! Salisbury, you’re going to die. You’re going to die a hundred yards from the gate.” I was already on Air Force property. So, I pulled over and I tried to be very, very apologetic. I can’t think of the right word but I was bending over backwards.

Flood: I’m sure you were.

Salisbury: And he hadn’t cocked it yet. It was one of those old .45s. The first one you had to pull the slide back. And then he pulled the slide back and I said “Oh boy. My goose is cooked. I’m either going to have to charge this guy, you know, and try to disarm him or he’s going to kill me.”

And, so it was just a split second and then this Jeep full of four American MP Captains pulled up. Just saved my ass. And they pulled up and, of course, they were able to diffuse the situation immediately ‘cause it was four of them with their .45s drawn.

Flood: You were saved by the angels.

Salisbury: They told me “Captain, you get out of here! I don’t know what happened but wherever you’re going, you go. And so, I got in my Bronco and high-tailed it for the terminal!

Flood: And you said, “I’m going home!”

Salisbury: “I’m going home.” I was probably about ready to wet my pants but I didn’t. I got there. And I was visually shook up for a couple hours.

Flood: I would imagine.

Courage in Unlikely Places

Salisbury: Once you’re on that flight home, you just can’t believe it. ‘Cause the two most dangerous times for soldiers that I was told in Vietnam was your first week because you’re so cautious and you’re so worried about things, and your last week because again, you’re cautious and you’re worried.

I made it through the first week easy and I made it through the last week by a thin hair.

Flood: By angels in a Jeep!

Salisbury: Angels in a Jeep!

I know that probably other guys could have told more compelling stories about Vietnam. But that was an influential part of my life I’ll never forget.

Flood: I’m personally just grateful that you made it home.

Salisbury: Me, too!

Flood: Thanks Mike, for coming and talking to us on the Revealing Men podcast.

Salisbury: My pleasure. As I always tell my wife, I’m always eager to volunteer for things like this but the day of the activity I wonder what the hell was I thinking!

Flood: But courage, you said, is a mindset, right?

Salisbury: It is. It is.

Flood: So, where there is no fear, no trepidation, there is no courage. When it comes easy to us, we just do. You had some fear about doing this but you’re a courageous man, you come in, you showed up, and you talked.

Thanks, Mike.

Online and In-person Resources

No two people handle traumatic experiences or memories in the same way. If you or someone you know experiences PTSD from war or other trauma, don’t hesitate to seek help. The Men’s Resource Center provides remote counseling and in-person counseling services for many issues that men face.

For information about our men’s support groups and EMDR and trauma therapy programs, contact the Men’s Resource Center online or call us at 616-456-1178.  Also, feel free to reach out if you have questions about this segment, ideas for a topic, or would like to be a guest on the Revealing Men podcast.