A. Baronowski in his dress greens.
Memorial Web Site
Tim Duffie's online memorial to his friend Michael Baronowski.
Here you will find links to several of Michael Bronowski's letters home, images,
and some of his writings from high school.
MICHAEL BARONOWSKI WAS
A 19-YEAR-OLD MARINE
when he landed in Vietnam in 1966. He brought with him a reel-to-reel tape
recorder and used it to record audio letters for his family back in Norristown,
Pennsylvania. He was killed in action in 1967. Baronowski's tapes were discovered
in 1997. Baronowski's friend and fellow platoon-member Tim Duffie discovered the
tapes and sent them to Lost & Found Sound and NPR.
Tim Duffie in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in March, 2000: Every death
is a tragedy and I don't buy into any given death was more tragic than the others.
OK? But in, in this, of all the 58,000 tragedies, this was one that's very close
(Young Vietnamese girl singing from tapes)
Mike Baronowski in Vietnam '66: (sending a letter home to his parents)
I don't know where to begin. There's so much to tell you about. We've been real
lucky with the rain so far. It's rained only about four of the days we've been
here. And the rest of the time, we've been busy every hour, every minute, with
setting in and digging in, preparing fields of fire, clearing fields of fire,
patrolling, ambushing, standing 50 percent, security at night. Stringing up barbed
wire, trip flares and other goodies.
The terrain is majestic. It's like something out of "Heidi." The
view is magnificent. And just as sinister as it is magnificent. Sinister because
this is the perfect terrain, the perfect country for mortar attacks and the VC
have made use of it.
Tim: My name is Tim Duffie. At the time I was in Vietnam, I was Corporal,
Corporal Tim Duffie, United States Marine Corps, 2199108. Mike at the time, ah,
was a Lance Corporal, when we were together in October and November of 1966.
Mike in Vietnam 66: Here's another man you'll get to know through the
tapes here, if I'm able to hang on to the recorder: Mr. Tim Duffie.
Tim in Vietnam 66: I got to know Mike back in Okinawa. He introduced
himself one night.
Tim in 2000: We met in Okinawa in September of 1966. Then we took the
USS Iwo Jima from Okinawa down to Vietnam. Then we moved up to what was called
Payable Hill, which was located between the rockpile and the razorback, approximately
4 - 5,000 yards of the demilitarized zone in Quongtri Province.
Mike: I have the recorder here, and I'm going to try to keep it elevated
off the ground and away from everything here. I'm going to try to keep it up in
the air because everything I touch here eats through my skin or bites me, or rots,
something. This is, this is something else. The grass will cut you. The mud will
rot your skin. This is something else.
Tim: We were in my bunker. And what we would do was during the day,
you had some free time if you were not on patrol or on operation, or whatever.
So if Mike happened to have his free time while I'm on hole watch, he would come
down with his tape recorder and we would tape while I'm on, you know, on hole
Mike: This is the 35-watt voice of Station MOXE, broadcasting to you
from the swamps, jungles, boondocks, and infected salad of Fort McCourt, home
of the fighting first platoon of Hungry I Company.
Tim: I remember that, taping that comedy session. And we did it in my
fighting hole. And I can see him sitting there, doing that, that tape.
Mike: This portion of our programming is brought to you by Twenty-Round-Burst,
the candy bar voted best tax waste of the war.
(Harmonica - Marine Corps Hymn)
A. Baronowski in Da Nang, Summer 1966 (approximately).
Tim: Mike had made me go out and buy a harmonica. And he taught
he gave me one lesson, on how to hold my tongue and play one note at a time. But
he knew he wanted background music for all this crazy crap, so he made me learn
how to "play" the harmonica. And that's me in the background with the
Marine Corps Hymn.
Mike: (harmonica continues) Don't be one of those unfortunates who suffer
tragically from that malady sometimes referred to Viet Cong yellow striped fever.
Stupe, stupe, stupefy your friends and maim your enemies, exercise your God-given
right to kill or maim at a distance. It's a great feeling to know that you can
wipe out your entire neighborhood. Yes, be the first kid on your block to rule
the world. See your Marine Corps recruiter today.
Tim: I really think Mike and I were just such kindred spirits. Ironically,
I don't ever remember us sitting around talking about the potential that one of
us would die. You know, we just weren't sitting there waiting to die.
Mike: I just don't know what to say. I'm at a total loss for words here.
I'm looking out of our window now, a hole in the sandbag wall in the back of the
hooch. I'm looking out toward the east, out toward home. A long way from home.
Actually, I guess home is closer straight down. It will be great to hear your
voices again. I can't wait to get a tape. Make sure the, that when you send a
tape... (fade under)
Dad: Just sitting here listening to your tapes while we had breakfast.
Terry, Mom, Cookie and myself came up from Scranton. Sandy was working.
Mom: Hi Mike, trying to straighten up and get ready for Thanksgiving.
I'm starting to get Daddy's lunch or dinner ready, he eats at 12 o'clock.
Terry: Yesterday Mom took me to see Mary Poppins and that was a really
good movie and I enjoyed it very much. Take care of yourself and don't do anything
I wouldn't do as everyone in school says. Bye. Terry.
Cookie: Hi Mike, it's Cookie. I came in to say a few words. Hello. To
brighten your day. so, I'll see you Mike.
Sandy: I appreciate you sending the money, Mike, but it doesn't seem
right for me to spend your money so I opened an account to put the money in for
you when you get home. I wish you could be home for Christmas. That would be the
greatest thing in the world.
Mike:: Everybody's anxious to get home and get back to their families
and their girls. But while we're over here we're not wasting away thinking about
it. We're glad and proud. This where I belong, I think, more, more so than anyplace
Tim: These tapes, I assumed these tapes were long gone. I had never
even considered the possibility they'd still be around. But then I met Cookie
in '97 . And I couldn't believe that she had those tapes. I personally think that
what he did with the tape recorder was practice. I think it would have been his
portfolio when he came home. he was going in radio when he came home. And he was
just going to take that around and play it, and say, see, this is what I can do.
Mike: The rest of the tape here on this side are sounds as I recorded
them when they called 100-percent alert, which is pretty rare.
Tim: The attack was officially, I guess, referred to as a probe. So
what the NVA were doing is they were looking for a weakness. And that whole battle
was taking place 30 yards from Mike and I.
Mike: [whispering] Now the word's been passed to fix bayonets. The Sarge
just came running by, saying let me go get my bayonets. I can get him on this.
This started to be a fun tape. I don't - it's getting too much like a 12-cent
combat comic book now.
[Artillery in background]
Man: Hey Carter? How many of you over there? Three of you? Three of
you in that hole? OK. [explosions]
Mike: There's all kinds of garbage going on. We don't know whether it's
outgoing or incoming. No word's passed down like that. The illumination is being
kept up. Every once in a while a 60 millimeter mortar mission is called out to
our left front, holding on out there. Some of this looks like a nine acre Christmas
tree fire. Low peter, high explosive. You can hear the illumination being kept
up there. [Boom] Those were heat rounds, high explosives. It's dark now. We're
waiting for the illumination to go off. There goes the illumination. [laughs]
That's the heaviest thing, a heavy feeling, sitting here in the dark with all
that stuff going on.
Sounds of the Enchanted Forest. [boom, boom, etc.] [machine gun fire]
There they go. Jesus! Whoa, that was too close [boom] Air strike [boom, boom,
boom] They wiped napalm all over that place. Look at that. [big boom] [singing]
You're in the Pepsi generation.
A. Baronowski in Da Nang, Summer 1966 (approximately), holding a Thompson machine
Tim: I don't see any, any indication of fear in his voice. But we didn't
know but what we were going to have to grab our rifles and M-14s or hand grenades
and have at it. Because if they'd have broken through that point, then we were
going to be in an all out hand-to-hand combat. And that very potential; there
was no way I could have stood there and did what he did.
Mike: Now it's dark and quiet. Everything's been quiet for about 15
minutes now. I was just crouching down in the hole there talking to a hand grenade.
I thought it was the microphone, and I realized what I was doing. And the rain
is just on time. Now it will rain the rest of the night.
[rain sound fades]
Tim: My memories of how Mike died are: he was walking point, and I was
in, in a squad, I was carrying a radio and I was probably five or six people back.
And we were moving alongside of a Vietnamese village. And the village was deserted.
I heard one shot which we knew was not an M-14. We knew it wasn't one of ours.
And then two more shots, and basically that was the end of it, and somebody shouted,
Mike was down. And I ran up through the fence row and I saw Mike laying off to
the side on the ground. I moved up beside him and in my memory he was looking
at me, and then I had run off and we dealt with the fire-fight. Then they had
to set up perimeter security to bring in the medivac helicopters. And so, thinking
that Mike was just wounded, I'm sitting under the tree, and I'm kind of smiling
to myself. He's going home now. He's got the million-dollar wound. And I began
to, kind of, in my imagination, I could see myself driving across Interstate 70,
driving into Norristown. I pictured a house like I think he would live in. And
I pictured myself walking up the sidewalk, and Mike sees me and he comes running
out the door, and a big hug, and welcome home, and let's go to New York City.
That was Our Dream.
And periodically I'm looking over my shoulder and I look up, and I see four
people, one on each ankle and wrist. Literally, they've, they've lifted him up
like a sack of potatoes, and they're running across the field, his head was hanging
back, bouncing across the, the dirt. And I started to stand up and say, that's
no way to treat a wounded man, and boom, and I knew he wasn't wounded. I knew
he was dead.
[Helicopter Sound - Young girl singing in Vietnamese]
Tim: If you were to take me back to the beginning of it and say, OK,
now here's how it's going to end, are you sure you want to do this, if I knew,
I think I'd still have to say, yeah, I want to do it again. It's not the war,
it's not the cause, it's not Vietnam, it's just the, the kind of love that you
get in such a short intense period of time.
Tim: And I think I can go to his grave now. I've never done it, and
take a copy of the tape and just kind of dig a little hole there and maybe we'll
put one of the, a copy of the broadcast there for him. I don't know. But I think
it's - I'm going to have to go tell him that it, that it worked. That he's been
on the radio. He made it.
Mike: (Walking in the darkness) Well, that's my hooch, but what I usually
do is to stumble and if I can find my way through the darkness, I come down here
and talk to one of the men that's standing on watch here on the hill. [footsteps]
This is one of my ARVN friends down here. His name is Nyen. He's sitting here
with his eyes half closed. The poor guy's been on watch. How are you doing, Nyen?
Mike: Yeah, fine. You look like you're about to fall over. He's just
sitting here on the sand bags. Right up on top. He doesn't care who's out there.
Too tired to care about anything. [Vietnamese]
Mike: [Vietnamese] means "maybe rain"? And he doesn't think
so. I don't think so either. There are a billion stars visible tonight. Beautiful.
No smog or city smoke to cloud up the atmosphere. Almost every night it's clear,
and now more and more nights aren't clear because the monsoon is fast coming.
But those nights that are clear, almost every star that's visible with the human
eye, I guess, is visible. It's a beautiful sight. The Milky Way and all the constellations.
Of course they're a little bit different because we're on the other side of the
planet looking at them from some weird cockeyed angle, I don't know. Hey, I've
got some news for you. I made Meritorious Lance Corporal today. How about that?
Proud of me? Wow. Did you see that shooting star, Nyen? Did you see that? Whoosh.
There was a big shooting star just now. And [boom]. That was mortars. This is
so much easier than writing. I can do it in the dark, of course, which is nice,
except that this damn red blinker here is liable to get me zapped. So I've got
my hand over it. I'm not quite as awake as I should be when I try to tape. But
like I said, another better one is on the way, I promise. I just wanted to get
this one off to you, while I can, so that you'll have it, and know that I'm thinking
about you. I think about all of you and miss you so much. Every day. You just
don't have any idea, Mom and Dad, Cookie, Sandy and Terry, how good it was to
hear your voices again. It was really wonderful. That's all I can say. What else
can I say? It was really great to hear you all again.
"The Vietnam Tapes
of Michael A. Baronowski"
Producers: Chrisina Egloff and Jay Allison
Production support: Art Silverman, Bill Deputy, Darcy Bacon
Lost & Found Sound
is produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, and Jay Allison,
in collaboration with NPR.
Lost and Found Sound
is funded by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for
the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.