MICHAEL F BASTIAN - SGT
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- May 27, 1946
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- January 02, 1969
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Michael F. Bastian was born on May 27, 1946. His home of record is Sewell, NJ.
He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Sergeant (SGT).
Bastian was killed in action on January 2, 1969.
May 27, 1946-January 2, 1969
SGT, Army Sewell, NJ
They were the "Gusto Boys." Mike, Bill, and Skeet so named themselves after seeing the sixties popular beer commercial with the slogan "Go for the gusto!" If you saw one of them, chances were you saw all three. They grew up together in Sewell, NJ, graduated from Clearview Regional High in 1964, and were inseparable.
"If the three of us were together, it seemed nothing bad ever happened," remembers Skeet. "We looked out for each other."
"Mike would egg us on," says Bill. "One night, we ended up racing a cab driver in New York City because we were bored at a dance in Salem. And if a party was dull, Mike would start stripping to music to capture everyone's attention."
"People would shudder when we showed up because they knew something was going to happen," adds Skeet. "Mike would start a fake fight with one of us just to create some excitement. It was always something. He couldn't sit around and do nothing."
Mike was spontaneous, impulsive, and did not appreciate being crossed. Bill remembers an incident that could have brought them some real trouble.
"We gave a couple of men some money one night to go into a bar and buy us some beer," he says. "After a while, it was obvious they weren't coming back out. Mike says, 'I'll fix them', and went home to get his shotgun. When he came back, he went up to the building and fired once, up in the air. He then went to a phone booth, called the bar and yelled, 'The next time you rip us off, it's coming through the window!' We left before anything else happened and laughed about it the rest of the night."
After graduation, Skeet enlisted in the Navy, and soon found himself in the waters off Vietnam. Mike and Bill went to LaSalle University in Philadelphia. Bill recalls Mike talking him into going to school together.
"Mike wanted to take English, of all things. But he always liked literature," he says. "I took accounting because it was first in the alphabetical listing of courses and that's how I started my career as a CPA."
Mike was the youngest of four children that Charles and Dorothy Bastian raised on East Boulevard in Sewell. There was a thirteen-year gap between Mike and his next oldest brother, Harry, who most knew as 'Babe', of Pitman. His wife, Shirley, remembers her in-laws, who have since passed away.
"They were wonderful people," she says. "They were active in the church and had many friends. Babe and I were married and had started our own family when Mike was growing up. I know he liked girls a lot, and was interested in journalism. But I remember telling him there was always a black cloud following him around. It was never serious, just a general feeling I had."
Mike had his eye on a particular girl for over a year when a chance encounter during his senior class trip to Washington, DC, provided the spark he needed.
"In one of the exhibits at the FBI building, I saw a girl hanging all over him," says Diane Rudderow of Pitman. "I could tell he was annoyed with her and so I just walked up, put my arm through his and walked away with him. He thanked me for rescuing him and we were together for the rest of the trip."
Mike and Diane 'went steady' on and off through graduation and for two years beyond. Their relationship was intense and stormy. They were steadfastly in love but Mike's jealousy and possessiveness would always get in the way.
"We would fight and break-up but then always gravitate to each other," she says. "I don't think many people knew how strong our attachment was. He never laid a hand on me and made sure his friends accepted me into their company, which they did. My friends thought he was great, too. But we came from different circles. I was more the 'Mary Poppins' type, and he and his friends seemed to me to be the tough street-wise guys."
"Mike would have never wanted to 'go all the way' with Diane," Bill adds. "She was the girl he wanted to end up with. So every time they would break up, he would go and have his fun with everyone else."
"He never cheated on me when we were together," Diane says. "Mike became genuinely interested in things I did. He joined the choir and drama club, partly because of me but then really enjoyed them and put everything he had into it."
"Increasing his vocabulary was very important to him," she continues. "I remember him using the word, 'asinine' once, and I didn't know what it meant. I thought it was a nasty word and he thought that was funny. To this day, I use it on occasion and think of him whenever I hear it."
"Everyone liked Mike," adds Skeet. "He had a way about him. He enjoyed life and wanted everyone else to enjoy it as much as he did. Whatever he did, it was a hundred percent."
"Mike was a romantic, sensitive guy who had a lot of compassion," Diane says. "But I couldn't handle the rage he would go into when I would even talk to another guy. I loved him, and still do. I always thought that no matter what else would happen in our lives, we would end up together."
Eventually, Diane was forced to make a decision, and she did so with her head and not her heart. After several break ups, she realized she had to put some distance between Mike and herself. She had tried dating others, but then Mike would wait for them near Diane's house and be rude, if not threatening, to her date when they returned. It was something that just could not be resolved. She made the split permanent in early 1967.
Mike had quit school and taken a job at Mobil Oil in Paulsboro when he received his draft notice. He chose to enter the Army by volunteering, instead. He began basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, in June of 1967.
"Mike's parents took me to see him," Diane recalls. "Even though I was engaged at the time, I longed to see him again. He looked so good in his uniform. I can even remember the dress I wore. I never realized that would be the last time I saw him."
After basic training, Mike was assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana and trained as a machine gunner. His letters to his parents demonstrate his adventurous spirit and his humorous wit.
In one, he wrote:
Training is rugged, but I like it. I thought this place would be crawling with alligators. We haven't seen one yet. When we get our first pass, I got a couple of guys talked into going on an alligator hunt.
I was thinking...You ought to rent my room to a couple of college girls this fall. It would do you good to have people around and would be convenient for me when I come home on leave! I'm going to close now. I'm sorry but there's not much to talk about except complain. And that's all we do all week long so I'll see you later.
Mike's first regular duty assignment after training was in Hawaii. He was assigned to the 11th Infantry Brigade at Schofield Barracks. The brigade had been assigned to Hawaii to replace the 25th Infantry Division, which had already been sent to Vietnam. The training included mountain climbing and survival techniques. His off duty hours were filled with writing letters and exploring more new interests.
War games and training. That's all we'll be doing for as long as we're here. And there is another rumor going around today. A lieutenant supposedly said we won't be going to Vietnam, that the rest of our enlistment will be spent training here or in Korea. Each company has it's own rumor. And they change more often than I change underwear. A friend of mine has a book on yoga that I've been reading. It's pretty interesting and I've been practicing Dynamic Concentration.
In another letter, he brags about dating a Hawaiian girl and being the envy of his platoon. He complains about KP and tells of spending Christmas on the beach. He asks his folks to send a picture of him and Diane. He was proud of his promotion to Private First Class and asked for some of his civilian clothes.
A machine gunner in the battalion was to be chosen to take part in a firepower demonstration for a visiting general. Mike wrote:
The Sergeant Major and the battalion commander, as well as most of the men, said I was the best. I hope you don't get upset when I talk about my job but I am good so you don't have anything to worry about. Still no word on when we're leaving for Vietnam.
The 11th Infantry Brigade (Light), and more particularly, Mike's unit, the 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry, was sent to Vietnam in April of 1968, three months after the famous Tet offensive. The unit was to serve as emergency relief in coastal Quang Tin and Quang Ngai provinces, in the upper third of South Vietnam. The battalion became part of the newly formed 23rd Infantry Division (AMERICAL) and was based in Duc Pho. Mike was excited about his new environment. He wrote:
These names are going to be great. We're at Chu Lai (chew-lye). And we're going to Duc Pho (duck-foe, like toe). We really have it pretty good right here. Showers, a mess hall, the beach, we even have a beer hall. Eleven cents a can. Don't worry. I`ll be OK.
For the next few weeks, Mike's unit operated sporadically around their base camp. His first mission did not result in enemy contact and his letters speak of the lighter side of things.
There's a lot of pretty country around here. Prettier than Hawaii, I think. There are Vietnamese working in our camp and they are funny. There really isn't anything to worry about. We haven't even been shot at yet.
In subsequent letters, Mike brags about being the first Bastian to swim in the South China Sea and proudly boasts of his new nickname, 'The Mad Turk', precipitated by his freshly grown mustache. He spends more time in the field on operations and complains of warm beer and cold C-rations. He asks for non-perishable foods, and is most grateful when they arrive. He requests MAD magazine, the Woodbury Times, and constantly asks about family members. But slowly, his letters begin to mirror the effects of combat and the resulting callousness.
We've been on the move for the last couple of weeks. I'm sorry I couldn't write. We had a little trouble up there but not anything to get upset about. A buddy of mine got lucky the other day. He shot a gook that had nine dollars on him. I can't wait to go back out in the field. I'm more comfortable on the ground and we eat C-rations anyway because the hot food here gives most of us diarrhea.
Me and two other guys usually volunteer to go into tunnels and we went into a big complex the other day. Babe and Shirley will probably tell you about the skeletons but we also found a bunch of VC documents, two radios and other VC stuff. And we found about $85 in Vietnamese currency. That's better pay than the Army gives.
Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author
Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.
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