BURKE, MICHAEL JOHN

Name: Michael John Burke 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Marine Corp 
Unit: Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division 
Date of Birth: 26 April 1946 (Evergreen, IL)
Home of Record: Chicago, IL
Date of Loss: 19 October 1966 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 165400N 1071100E (YD344698)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Water
Other Personnel In Incident: Richard E. Mishuk and Leonard J. Lewandowski, Jr. (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  On the morning of 19 October 1966, Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division was on a brief rest and relaxation break near the Cua Viet River, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. The members of Company D were using part of Company A's facilities while there. Weather conditions that morning included warm temperature with rain showers and fair visibility. The local terrain included a sandy beach with a sparse growth of pine trees 50 meters from the water line and visibility of 200 to 300 meters. Further, small hamlets and fishing villages dotted the region.

The Marines arose at 0730 hours, had breakfast and began to enjoy a little more "down-time" before packing their gear and boarding US Navy Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 63 for the trip back upriver to begin another patrol. At approximately 0930 hours, PFC Richard E. Mishuk and then LCpl. Michael J. Burke asked LCpl. Ronald A. Rihaly for permission to go swimming in the Cue Viet River. LCpl. Rihaly gave it and told them not to go outside of the regular swimming area.

Half an hour later Richard Mishuk and Michael Burke returned to the company area. They said that the water was warm and wanted to see if other Marines wanted to join them including LCpl. Rihaly. Ronald Rihaly declined the invitation, but PFC Leonard J. Lewandowski accepted and at 1015 hours the three Marines returned to the swimming area along the river. LCpl. Rihaly made a point of reminding LCpl. Burke that he was in charge of the swimming party and for them to be back soon because they needed to prepare to go back into the field later that afternoon. He noted that Michael Burke was dressed in red swim trunks while Richard Mishuk and Leonard Lewandowski were wearing green underwear for swim trunks.

At 1145 hours, PFC Burrell asked LCpl. Rihaly where the swimming party was since he needed them to return to the compound to prepare their gear for departure as well as for chow. Ronald Rihaly told him to check the regular swimming area. Ten minutes later, PFC Burrell returned to the company area and reported that he was unable to locate them.

Ronald Rihaly called another member of the company, LCpl. Bolar, who suggested the swimming party might have gone farther down the river then originally planned. To check out that possibility, Ronald Rihaly walked about halfway down to the dock to a point where he could see LCU 63 at its mooring across the river. Three men were playing with a dog near the unmanned LCU. One of the Americans was tall, wearing red swim trunks and resembled Michael Burke. The other two men were clad in green shorts. The cursory look and distance across the river made it impossible to positively identify the three as being the members of the swimming party.

Because LCpl. Rihaly believed it was Michael Burke, Richard Mishuk and Leonard Lewandowski, he returned to the company area and reported to LCpl. Bolar accordingly. Ronald Rihaly also recounted the fact that the gang line used by troops to board the LCU was broken and the three Marines probably believed that they would not be able to board LCU 63 for the return trip up river in a few hours as originally planned.

After lunch Ronald Rihaly again returned to the area where he could see where the LCU was moored. While he saw no sign of the three Marines either in the water or on the shore, he believed they were still in the immediate area and they might have even climbed aboard the LCU. No undue concern was raised at that time. However, attempts were made to contact LCU 63 through both the Shore Party Air Control Center and Company A's Command Post in order to recall the swimming party, but no radio contact could be established.

By 1315 hours, and three hours after the members of the swimming party departed for the Cue Viet River, members of Company D believed that Richard Mishuk, Michael Burke and Leonard Lewandowski were no longer on or near the LCU. They began a thorough search of the company area in the hope they had returned to the compound unnoticed
.

By 1410 hours, the search was expanded to the bank of the Cua Viet River. When no sign of the three Marines was found by 1530 hours, LCpl. Rihaly reported to Capt. R. F. Corcoran, the Company A Commander, that PFC Mishuk, PFC Lewandowski and LCpl. Burke were missing. The company commander immediately sent a search squad along the south side of the river and launched an O1 Bird Dog observation aircraft to conduct an initial aerial search before dark.

The next morning Capt. Corcoran initiated a formal search and rescue (SAR) operation. Another squad of Marines was dispatched on three amphibious tractors across the river. He ordered a more extensive aerial search of the entire sector using several O1 Bird Dogs. In addition to both sides of the river being thoroughly searched by air and ground, other patrols investigated the nearby villages and hamlets. The local residents were interviewed with the help of interpreters, but no one had seen or heard of the three Americans. Deteriorating weather conditions hampered the SAR operations. Finally when no trace of the members of the swimming party was found, the formal search was terminated on 22 October. At that time Michael Burke, Richard Mishuk and Leonard Lewandowski were declared Missing in Action.

The last known location of the swimming party was near the mouth of the Cua Viet River where it opened into the Gulf of Tonkin, approximately ½ mile northeast of Xam Tuam, 7 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and 9 miles northeast of Dong Ha, Gio Linh District, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.

According to the Marine Corps, there is a good possibility Michael Burke, Richard Mishuk and Leonard Lewandowski drowned in the Cua Viet River and their remains were carried out to sea. If that is the case, there is virtually no chance each man's remains can ever be recovered and returned to his family, friends and country. However, the area in which the three Americans vanished was not totally secure and there is an equally good possibility that they were captured by local Viet Cong forces and moved immediately to another location. If that is the case, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Above all else, Michael Burke, Richard Mishuk and Leonard Lewandowski have the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which they gave their lives.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American servicemen in Vietnam were called upon to operate in many dangerous circumstances both on and off duty, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.