Since this is Memorial Day, it seems appropriate to tell this story. When I first joined the Navy at age 18, I was given a MIA bracelet by my sea “daddy,” a senior chief who took me under his wing and taught me the ways of the Navy during those early years. I’m not positive if he actually knew the man on my bracelet but I have a feeling he did. Senior had already been in the Navy for 45 years when I met him and I believe by passing on his bracelet, he hoped to inspire a new generation to carry on and think about those who were lost in the jungles of Vietnam.
The name on my bracelet is LCDR Michael L. Bouchard and for probably my first 17 years in the Navy I wore his bracelet every day. I’d think about him each time my gaze would see his name on my wrist. When I visited Washington, DC and the Vietnam Memorial, I would seek out his name on the black granite stone and trace his name with my fingers. His name is located on panel 36W, line 48. I stopped wearing the bracelet about the time I went to sea in 2001, I don’t remember why, probably because of the machinery on the ship, but I kept it in my coffin rack among my prized possessions. I thought about Michael again today and had to go find my old friend and research a bit about him.
Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about LCDR Bouchard when he was younger, he was born after the 1930 census was released and new information about him and his family won’t be available until the release of the 1940 census in April 2012. What I do know is he was born on November 1, 1938 in Missoula, Montana to a Roman Catholic family. He attended the Bonner Elementary School and then Missoula High School, graduating about 1956. After high school he married, had four children, three daughters and a son and joined the United States Navy. Mike became a pilot and in 1962, he was stationed on board the USS Midway (CV-41) as a Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTjg). He was divorced by 1966, as his youngest daughter recalls being 3 years old when her parents separated and 5 years old when he was classified as missing in action.
In 1968, he was attached to Attack Squadron 196 (VA-196), deployed on board the USS Constellation (CV-64). This is what the Navy has released about his mission:“On the night of 19/20 Dec 1968, LT Michael L. Bouchard, pilot, and LT Robert W. Colyar, bombardier-navigator, launched from USS CONSTELLATION in A-6A BuNo 154152 for a strike mission in Laos. Upon arrival in the area they were assigned to a Forward Air Controller working a truck park on the Ho Chi Minh Trail near the village of Ban Tanook, about 20 miles southwest of the A Shau Valley. Bouchard was to make visual dive-bombing runs by the light of parachute flares. Once cleared by the FAC, he rolled in but as his aircraft was passing through 5500 feet and at an airspeed of about 500 knots the A-6 was hit by AAA fire, separating the starboard wing from the fuselage. Other aircrew in the area saw only one parachute, which turned out to be Colyar’s. Once on the ground, Colyar spent about 30 minutes searching for Bouchard but then was forced to leave the area to avoid capture. He was picked up the next day by an Air Force helicopter. LT Bouchard was classed as Missing in Action and was carried in that status until 26 Nov 1973, when the Secretary of the Navy approved a Presumptive Finding of Death. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander while MIA. LCDR Bouchard’s remains have not been repatriated.”
Michael was very much loved and missed. I’ve come across emails from his daughters asking for information and memories of their father and I’ve also found the following memories written by former friends in my search:Hello, My name is Alphie Liming and I grew up Missoula, MT. Mike grew up in a very small lumber mill “company” town, Bonner, about 7 or 8 miles from Missoula. My grandmother taught him in the second grade at Bonner Elementary School. Mike was one year ahead of me in school, and the following year my grandma taught me in the 2nd grade. That’s when I got to know Mike. We sort of lost touch until high school, but because there wasn’t a high school in Bonner Mike had to come to Missoula to school. We became reacquainted and subsequently went steady in high school. An extremely bright and personable young man, he was very popular, being Student Body President, as well as State Study Body President. (I always thought he would go on to be a politician.) He graduated in 1956 and went to Oregon State University on an NROTC Scholarship and was a Sigma Chi. I had been accepted to go to OSC as well, but as things happen sometimes, we parted ways (still very good friends) and I went to USC. The last time I saw Mike was in 1961. He came to visit me and my husband, who was also a Navy officer, in San Diego. I know that he was married and believe had 3 children, but subsequently divorced. I’ve heard that he had been accepted to the Blue Angels just before he was shot down, supposedly on one of his last missions. We’ve seen photos on TV taken in a POW camp in North Vietnam a year or so after he was shot down that many of us felt were pictures of him eating (he was left-handed as I am). Mike was an admirable person and I know would have gone far had not his life been cut so short. From a childhood friend,
I rememember when I was 10 years old, my dad talking to Mike’s father on the phone, listening … just being there for him. Sometimes the calls were late at night and when my dad would hang up he would break down and cry. This strong man who had served in WWII would collapse into the sorrow and loss he felt for his friend, who would never know the truth about what happened to his son after that plane went down. I have memories of there being a news story that showed some POW’s in captivity and how one young man resembled Mike, and my parents thinking there might still be hope of his returning. Sadly, that was not the case. Mike’s leather jacket still hangs in Bonner Grade School where he, and later I, attended. I didn’t know him, but I’ll never forget him. I’ll never forget my dad’s tears, or the heartbreak the whole community felt. God bless Mike, his family and friends, and all the brave men and women who never made it home.
Rest in Peace
Lieutenant Commander Michael Lora Bouchard
Nov. 1, 1938 – Nov. 26, 1973