Telling Their Stories: “In God We Trust, All Others We Monitor”
November 2017 | Written by Sam Sittes | Lake Oswego Review
Lake Oswego’s Mike Holm reflects on Vietnam draft notice that changed his life.
Mike Holm was sitting in a Portland cafe with some buddies in the early 1960s when his future wife walked through the door. “One of my friends said, ‘You know, Mike, she lives down the street from you,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Nothing that gorgeous lives on my street that I don’t know about!’”
He was wrong. She indeed did live down the street, her name was Dotty, and the pair began dating in high school. For two years, they both attended Portland State University but Holm’s pursuit of an electrical engineering degree took him to Oregon State University. But he came home every weekend to see Dottie. They both graduated in June 1965, and they celebrated by getting hitched that August. “We were on our honeymoon,” Holm said. “We came home, and I had a draft notice waiting for me.”
And suddenly, everything changed.
On Jan. 17, 1966, Mike Holm raised his right hand and swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America. With an electrical engineering degree (with an emphasis in communication) in hand, Holm figured the U.S. Army would be the best place for his talents. He was steered to the Army Security Agency, whose motto describes the attitude shared among electronic espionage experts: “In God we trust; all others we monitor.” He concluded 13 weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, before being assigned to radio repair technician school at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for six months. Dotty followed, working a night job sorting film so she could have the same hours as Mike and they could spend more time together.
And then everything changed again.
Just 51 weeks into his military career, Holm was elevated to commissioned-officer status and on June 28, 1967, he joined the 224th Aviation Battalion in Southeast Asia as an avionics officer. Over the next year, Holm would fly more than 70 missions, finding targets for infantry, artillery and B-52 air strikes. During his tour of duty, Holm created a new standard-operation procedure, called “crabbing the aircraft,” that outlined how Army radio research planes should fly to most effectively map targets — a small personal victory, he says, that gave him a sense of purpose in an otherwise chaotic situation.
Halfway through Holm’s time in Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive. On Jan. 30, 1968, Holm was heading into his office when an artillery shell struck the wall of a building next to him. The explosion dropped a sheet of drywall on top of Holm. Gunfire from outside the base could be heard in all directions. After picking himself up and dusting off the debris, Holm ran outside and found chaos. Holm hopped into a bunker, where he found two air police awaiting orders. He took up the position and waited there for two hours before getting the all clear. It was an experience that shook the entire base to its core. For Dotty, waiting for Mike to return wasn’t an easy task, especially during media coverage of the Tet Offensive. “We didn’t hear from them for a long time,” she said, “and the stuff they would tell you on the news was just awful.” Thankfully, Holm was safe.
Following his return to the United States and a reunion with Dotty, Holm finished his final six months in the Army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Dotty went back to school part time while working at Portland State during Holm’s tour of duty, got her teaching certificate and went on to open her own preschool. The day before he was set to get out of the military, Holm was offered a promotion to captain, with the stipulation that he would have to re-enlist for another four years and spend an additional year in Vietnam. Instead, thinking of his wife and future family, he retired from the Army as a 1st Lieutenant. Returning to Oregon, Holm took a position with Bonneville Power Administration. He remained with BPA for 34 years before retiring from his post as director of information.
Today, Holm serves on the board of directors for the Lake Oswego Veterans Memorial, where he advocates for the recognition of all those who have served in the U.S. military, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. “I think what makes the biggest impact is just saying thank you,” Holm said. “It means a lot to us old guys.”