In 1969, Capt. Mike Measels and his fiancee, Karen, sat atop a picnic table at Album Park in El Paso, Texas. He had something important to tell her.
Measels told his wife-to-be that he had volunteered for Vietnam. Karen replied that this meant they needed to marry before he left.
“She said I’d rather have you for three months than not at all,” Measels recalled.
“Basically when she was committed to do it that way, I was committed to doing what she wanted to do,” he said. “Knowing me I think I’d be more apt to wait because I thought that would be unfair to her.”
They married on Saturday, Nov. 29, 1969, at the Fort Bliss Center Chapel in El Paso. Their reception was at the Fort Bliss Officers Club. Some of the young officers stepped out during the reception so they could follow the Army-Navy game that day which Army went on to win 27-0.
Measels received his commission in June 1966 through ROTC when he was the distinguished military graduate from St. Mary’s in San Antonio. He received his bachelor’s in biology with a minor in chemistry. After an assignment in South Korea, the air defense artillery officer was assigned to Fort Bliss where he and Karen started dating and fell in love after less than a year.
The Army decided that Measels would become an adviser in Vietnam so they sent him to a Vietnamese language school. He took the first phase at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and finished at Fort Bliss.
Part 377 in series
Measels was 25 when he went to Vietnam for a yearlong tour from 1970-71 while his new bride waited at home in El Paso. He joined the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, Advisory Team 71 in Soc-Trang which was in IV Corps, southernmost Vietnam. He spent his first six months as assistant S-3 operations officer. He would fly in a helicopter looking for potential Viet Cong targets which meant receiving sporadic groundfire.
He spent the next six months as an adviser to the 67th Regional Forces Battalion, a Vietnamese unit.
“It was rewarding,” Measels said of the year. “It was rewarding to my career because of the experience of Vietnam. It was rewarding – believe or not – in our marriage. Because it tested our love by being gone for a year after we basically had known each other less than a year. It strengthened it.
“It was traumatic in that I lost my NCOIC and he was killed in June of 1970 and he was only one of three that was killed in that advisory team.”
Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Garber, from Illinois, died on one of the team’s missions. The five-man team, which included two officers and three NCOs, sent three men on each mission – two NCOs and one officer. Measels was originally scheduled to go on this fateful mission but was instead sent to Can Tho that day.
“Unfortunately, he was killed and I wasn’t there,” he said. “I’d always felt kind of guilty about that.”
For his Vietnam tour, Measels received the Bronze Star, two Air Medals, and the Combat Infantry Badge.
In 1971 he returned home through San Francisco. The Army advised against traveling in uniform, so he changed clothes at his sister’s residence in San Francisco and then got a flight home.
Karen accompanied him on his next assignment, a three-year tour in Italy. Measels was assigned to the 559th Artillery as the commander of the 34th Detachment in Vicenza from 1971-74. Their daughter was born in Italy and baptized at the Vatican. Measels was promoted to major at his next assignment, Fort Hood, Texas.
The San Antonio native retired as a lieutenant colonel in June 1986 at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico, after 20 years of service. He was working for a joint Air Force-Army program called Identification Friend, Foe or Neutral Joint Test Force. He received a master’s in logistical science from Florida Institute of Technology during the early 1980s.
He worked at Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, from 1986 to 2006 and retired as an operations manager.
Measels and Karen, his wife of 53 years, have two children and two grandchildren. Their daughter, Amy, is a registered nurse in Nashville. Their son, Michael, is a geographical information systems engineer in Huntsville. Michael and his wife, Bianca, have a daughter, Lina, 6, and son, Michael, 5.
At 78 he still enjoys golf but hasn’t played as much since the pandemic. He likes working in his yard and at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. He is a member of the American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Rotary Club of Greater Huntsville.
Asked his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, Measels said he has not seen much of a celebration.
“I think too many people want to forget it,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is the 377th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.