David Michalak grew up in Wyandotte, Michigan, in a Catholic family with a strong tradition of military service. Several of his uncles served in World War II, and multiple cousins were serving in Vietnam. In 1967, he “volunteered his draft” to get an earlier report date. He attended Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Advanced Infantry Training at Tigerland at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He felt that the training he received helped build camaraderie and was especially formative. One of his Drill Sergeants told him, “You’re here to train, learn, and pay attention.” As he prepared to deploy to Vietnam, the Tet Offensive erupted, giving the Soldiers additional impetus to focus on their training. Arriving in Vietnam, he was assigned to D Company, 1/5 Cavalry in the 1st Cavalry Division. Veteran Rick Trisler took him under his wing and helped him learn many techniques that he applied during his year in-country. He learned to walk “point” on patrols, and developed senses that allowed him to smell the enemy and notice subtle disturbances in the earth along trails. He survived his year in Vietnam, but vivid memories of several patrols continued to bother him, manifesting as Post Traumatic Stress. Years later, at a veterans’ reunion, he was finally able to begin processing what he experienced in Vietnam and start healing.
In this interview, he describes his childhood and details some of his family’s military service. He discusses his training and some of the important lessons he learned. He highlights his tour in Vietnam, focusing on several missions where he lost close friends, including the fight on July 6, 1968, in which his friend and mentor, Rick Trisler, was killed. He reflects on the experiences that contributed to his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress, and expresses what his service means to him.