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Mike Clausen Jr., 56; Awarded Medal of Honor in Vietnam War

June 14, 2004|From the Washington Post

Mike Clausen Jr., who received the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor, for rescuing a platoon of Marines trapped in a minefield during the Vietnam War, has died. He was 56.

Clausen died May 30 of liver failure in a Dallas hospital.

In the Marine Corps, Clausen often flouted authority; he had been demoted after every promotion.

"I will come home a live private before coming home as a dead sergeant," he had said.

On Jan. 31, 1970, he seemed to have forgotten his credo.

That day, he was serving with Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 during a mission to pick up members of a Marine platoon near Da Nang that had wandered into a minefield while attacking the enemy. They were under heavy fire and frozen in their places, fearing that they would trip a mine.

Clausen was crew chief of his CH-46 helicopter and guided the pilot to a safe landing in a spot that had been cleared by a mine explosion.

The pilot told him not to leave, but Clausen ignored him -- six times, as he repeatedly left the safety of the helicopter to help carry back one dead and 11 wounded Marines to the aircraft.

He then tried to lead the eight remaining Marines to the copter.

On one trip, while he carried a wounded man, a mine went off, killing a corpsman and wounding three other Marines.

"Only when he was certain that all Marines were safely aboard did he signal the pilot to lift the helicopter," read his Medal of Honor citation.

His other decorations included the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.

He once told an interviewer that the men pinned down in the minefield mistakenly thought he knew where he was going.

"I ran over there [and] picked up the guys that couldn't walk," Clausen said. "The ones that could walk were under the assumption I knew where the mines were, obviously, and they followed every footstep I made back to the helicopter."

Raymond Michael Clausen Jr. was born in New Orleans and raised in Hammond, La. After six months of college, he joined the Marine Corps in 1966 and became a jet helicopter mechanic.

He left the service in April 1970 and became an inspector for the Boeing Co. Soon after, a car accident left him comatose for months, nearly blinded in one eye and without the strength to walk. At home, he had all his furniture placed in the center of a room so he could walk the perimeter using the wall for occasional support.

He spent his time speaking to veterans groups and continued to suffer from poor health.

In 1996, Clausen made news reports for facing a speeding ticket charge in Louisiana. He chose to defend himself and was ready to do so when the state district judge ordered him to take a sobriety test. He refused, claiming all he had had that morning was a nonalcoholic beer. The judge sentenced Clausen to a night in jail for contempt of court.

In court, he had worn the Medal of Honor "to remind [judges] that people fought and died in wars to defend the Constitution."

At his death, he was awaiting a liver transplant.

Survivors include his wife, Lois Clausen of Ponchatoula, La.; two brothers; and a sister.

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