Military and Defense

Medal of Honor Monday: Marine Corps Pfc. Ray “Mike” Clausen Jr.

Marine Corps Pfc. Raymond Michael Clausen Jr. wasn’t exactly known for acquiescing to authority during his time in Vietnam, and that lack of obedience helped save more than a dozen Marines who got trapped in a minefield in 1970. Clausen’s fearless actions during that mission earned him the Medal of Honor.

Clausen, who went by Mike, was born on Oct. 14, 1947, in New Orleans to parents Ray Sr. and Mary Louise. He had a sister and three brothers, two of whom also served in the Marines.

After first grade, Clausen’s family moved to Hammond, Louisiana, where he attended a Catholic primary school and was an altar boy at his church. Eventually, he switched to public school, graduating from Hammond High School in 1965. That fall, he started classes at nearby Southeastern Louisiana University, but after reading daily about all that was happening in Vietnam, he decided he needed to be part of the war effort.

Clausen enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in March 1966. By May of that year, he was discharged so he could join the regular Marines. After attending aviation school, Clausen was deployed to Vietnam, where he served as a jet helicopter mechanic with Marine Aircraft Group 16 of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Clausen returned to the U.S. for a short time before volunteering to go back in November 1969. In a Veteran’s History Project Library of Congress interview in the early 2000s, he said his mother didn’t like the idea and asked him why he wanted to return.

“I said, ‘There’s something I’ve got to do. I haven’t done it yet, but there’s something I’ve got to do,'” Clausen remembered.

When he got back to Vietnam, he remained with MAG 16 in Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263. As a helicopter crew chief, most of his missions were doing reconnaissance and Medevac flights. His job was to make sure all systems were a go for each flight, and while in the air, his role included clearing pilots in and out of landing zones and directing gunners.

On Jan. 31, 1970, his CH-46D Sea Knight and two other helicopters had dropped Marines into a field for a mission. A short time later, he said they were called back to extract some of those men, who had inadvertently stumbled into a minefield during a firefight with the enemy.

“The radio operator called up the helicopter and asked us if we’d come in and take up the wounded,” Clausen recalled. When the pilot asked Clausen if they should go, the young crew chief replied, “Considering we put them in there, I think it’s only right that we should get them out.”

Nearly a dozen Marines had been wounded or killed, and those who remained held their positions for fear of detonating more mines if they moved. Clausen skillfully guided his pilot to a landing area that looked safe because several mines had already exploded there – although, he said, he really didn’t know what a mine looked like and had no expertise on the matter.

Without hesitation, Clausen immediately ran off the chopper. When he reached the radio operator who had called for their help, that man pulled off Clausen’s helmet and yelled at him about entering a minefield.

“So, I sort of flew back to the helicopter, not even touching the ground. I was on the ramp looking out. [Some men] were carrying a stretcher toward the helicopter when one of the men carrying the stretcher stepped on a mine. The concussion and shrapnel knocked them all off their feet,” Clausen remembered.

He said he immediately told his pilot that he was going back out. His pilot tried to tell him to stay put, but it was too late. “I was already disconnected. I was gone,” Clausen said.

Despite the potential for hitting more mines, he went about his business collecting the injured.

“I picked up the ones who couldn’t walk, and the ones who could walk sort of followed in my footsteps — thinking I knew what mines were,” he said, chuckling at that thought. “We did all this under fire.”

Clausen left the relative safety of the helicopter six times to carry out his rescue efforts. He said in total, they landed in three different areas twice, and he entered the minefield each time to help.

He remembered one occasion during a landing when they hit and detonated a mine right near a fallen corpsman whose body was still on the ground. Clausen hopped off the chopper and rescued three other wounded men before grabbing the slain corpsman to bring him home.

Only when Clausen was certain that all the Marines were safely aboard the helicopter did he signal to the pilot to head back to base. When they got there, Clausen said his pilot reprimanded him for not following orders, threatening a court martial. Clausen said he’d disobeyed authority several times — a 2004 Boston Globe profile about him said he’d been demoted after every promotion — but the reprimand never happened.

“[My pilot then] said, ‘After what you did, there’s no way in hell I can court martial you,'” Clausen remembered.

The 22-year-old was credited with saving 18 Marines that day.

“I personally carried six of the Marines out of the minefield, two in each place I landed. The rest of the Marines in the area who could walk … followed me out,” he humbly said during the Library of Congress interview.

After that mission, Clausen came back to the U.S. and was released from active duty on Aug. 19, 1970. He took a job as an inspector for Boeing, but soon after, he got into a very serious car crash that temporarily left him in a coma. According to the Boston Globe, the crash nearly blinded him in one eye, and he had trouble walking for a while.

Clausen was at his home in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, recovering from the incident when he got a letter telling him he had earned the Medal of Honor. He received it on June 15, 1971, from President Richard M. Nixon during a White House ceremony. His accolades also include 98 Air Medals from the more than 3,000 hours he flew in combat.

In the Library of Congress interview, Clausen said he never considered himself a hero — just a man who did what had to be done. He said his Medal of Honor is shared with all of the helicopter crewmen with whom he served.

“Everybody that ever landed anywhere in Vietnam, ever flew in Vietnam — we all share in having the medal,” he said.

In 1976, Clausen married his long-time girlfriend, Lois. He spent much of the rest of his life doing public speaking events and talking with veterans’ organizations about his experience, even though his health was deteriorating.

Clausen died of liver failure on May 30, 2004, while receiving treatment at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. He was 56. Soon after, he was buried in Ponchatoula City Cemetery in the town in which he spent his later years.

About a decade before his death, Clausen donated his Medal of Honor to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, where it is on permanent display.

After his death, a Medal of Honor display that included one of his uniforms and a copy of his citation was set up at the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1052 in Independence, Louisiana. In 2019, it was loaned to the New Orleans VA Medical Center for display during the 50th commemoration of the Vietnam War. It was then moved to the Hammond Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Clausen’s hometown.

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

Source: Department of Defense

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Katie Lange

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Katie Lange

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