Michael Barry Turner arrived in Vietnam on February 11, 1968, smack-dab in the middle of the largest Communist offensive of the war. The Tet Offensive kicked off on January 31 at the beginning of a mutually understood ‘ceasefire’ by the belligerents for the yearly Vietnamese celebration. This year, however, the Communists used the sabbatical as their launch date for a nationwide assault.
Hue, South Vietnam’s third largest city, was one of the primary targets. Bisected by the Huong (Perfume) River, the north bank comprises two-thirds of the town, notably the Citadel, a walled city that once housed the ancient Imperial Palace. Perhaps more political than military, the Communists recognized the psychosomatic importance of its capture and occupation. The Viet Cong banner flew above the Citadel for the next 25 days.
American Marines and soldiers from South Vietnamese airborne and armored cavalry units poured into the battle. While elements of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division engaged in heavy action in the outlying areas, Marines and South Vietnamese soldiers slugged it out with the Communists in house-to-house fighting. The struggle was a brutal, no-quarters affair with heavy casualties.
Marine Pfc. Michael Barry Turner, fresh from the states, joined the fight for Hue under conditions similar to WWII street-fighting in Europe and Italy. Within hours Mike matured into a combat veteran. On February 18, a sniper caught the young Marine in his crosshairs. Mike had been ‘in-country’ exactly one week. He was 19 years old.
Mike’s younger brother, Dan, was 14 years old when a Lutheran pastor accompanied by a sharply dressed Marine rang the doorbell. Once Dan opened the door, he realized the magnitude of the moment. “I knew I had to get mom,” he said. Dorothy Turner’s reaction was unexpected. Dan Turner: “I had to put myself between mom and the Marine while Pastor Kinsler tried to soothe the situation. At first mom was outraged, kicking, swinging, cursing, until she fell to the floor in absolute grief.”
Dan’s father, O.L. “Bud” Turner was likewise consumed with grief. “Dad went over the edge for at least a week,” Dan recalled. “It was tough on both of them.”
The Turners’ anguish was borne of parenthood and war. Bud knew the horrors of war having served with the Seabees (Construction Battalion) on Guadalcanal during WWII. Dan recalled, “Dad came home with two things from Guadalcanal, his memories and malaria. But thankfully, he would talk about it. Dad discussed what he saw, touched, smelled, and tasted on that God-forsaken island. He described the humorous events as well as the heartbreaking moments. He held nothing back.”
Bud Turner resolved his grief by compassionately devoting his time and energy to several profound causes. He arranged scholarships at Towers High School for 10 straight years to students excelling in sports, fine art and academics. Bud met General Ray Davis at Towers during the first scholarship presentation. General Davis volunteered to stay on board the project for its entirety.
Bud phoned, met with and stayed as long as necessary with other Gold Star fathers in their time of sorrow. Bud Turner designed and donated a bronze statue he christened “For a Pal” for the Guadalcanal Campaign Veterans Society in Kalamazoo, MI. “For a Pal” overlooks the runways outside the Kalamazoo Air Museum to honor the men and women who served on Guadalcanal.
Seabee Bud Turner met a lady Marine on a blind date that changed his life forever. Her name was Dorothy, the fiery, fun-loving daughter of a Teamster truck driver. As a young woman, Dorothy loved to go ‘juking’ (dancing) with her friends, but complained, “Every time I went night-clubbing a trucker would see me and tell my dad. I couldn’t get away with anything!”
Dorothy danced with the likes of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, mastered the then-manly skills of plumbing, welding, and riveting, and attempted to join the Marines before WWII. That required her dad’s permission. Dorothy said, “I can’t tell you what he really said, but it meant NO! I joined the Marines anyway at the outbreak of WWII without my dad’s permission.” Asked his response to her secret enlistment, Dorothy said, “You can’t print that either.”
Sent to Camp Lejeune, Dorothy contributed her welding, plumbing, and riveting skills to the war effort. Of her talents and obligation, Dorothy said smiling, “Rosie the Riveter was a softy; the tough one was Dorothy the Welder.” ‘Tough’ may be too soft of a depiction. When a barracks sergeant hit Dorothy on the foot to rouse her from a deep sleep, Jimmy Hoffa’s ex-dancing partner came up swinging and knocked the sergeant out cold. A court-martial was avoided after the Marines read Dorothy’s enlistment records: ‘hates to be rudely awakened.’ Her son, Dan, said, “Yeah, I learned that the hard way, too.”
This no-nonsense yet compassionate Gold Star mother spent the next 60 years buying and distributing gifts to needy children for the Marines ‘Toys for Tots’ program. If assistance was needed, Dorothy would visit a local Marine recruiting station, walk in, then order the leathernecks, “You, you, and you; get out here now. I need your help.” The recruiters never argued with Dorothy.
The local high school principal would call in reinforcements – Dorothy – if disciplinary action was required of her sons or their friends. Her son Dan: “Mom would march into the school and wear out a few butts. No complaints, no lawsuits, just good old-fashioned discipline.” If rowdy children disturbed customers in a grocery checkout line, Dorothy would tell the mothers, “Lady, either you get that child under control or I will.”
Shortly before her passing, Dorothy was honored by the Marine Corps Devil Dogs Detachment from Duluth and the General Ray Davis Marine Corps League Detachment from Monroe. With over 100 residents and friends attending the ceremony at Morningside Assisted Living, Dorothy was asked by a young lady, ‘So, ma’am, you were a Marine?” Dorothy the Welder cut her eyes at the woman and said, “No, I am a Marine.”
Each Memorial Day weekend, Dan Turner, family and friends, meet at the Marietta National Cemetery for a wreath laying ceremony to honor the 3 American warriors from the Turner clan. Like so many American families, military service and the ultimate sacrifice touches the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of fellow countrymen knowledgeable of the profound cost of freedom.
Bud Turner and his son Michael rest in peace at the Marietta National Cemetery. After heated debates and red tape discussions, Dorothy will be reinterred with her husband and beloved son. Soon, the warriors of this one American family will rest in peace together for eternity.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.