Monument to Raymond "Mike" Claussen, Jr. unveiled
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    Thumbs up Monument to Raymond "Mike" Claussen, Jr. unveiled

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    Monument to Raymond "Mike" Claussen, Jr. unveiled

    Advocate Florida parishes bureau
    Published: Jan 28, 2007

    Former U.S. Marine Lance Cpls. Steve Bish, left, and Ed West, center, along with retired helicopter pilot Col. Walt Ledbetter view the monument unveiled in Ponchatoula Cemetery on Saturday recognizing Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Raymond 'Mike' Clausen Jr.

    PONCHATOULA -- Hundreds stood in the pouring rain to watch a parade in Hammond that welcomed Medal of Honor recipient Raymond "Mike" Clausen Jr. home from the Vietnam War on July 31, 1971.

    Almost 36 years later, another crowd stood in the cold, drizzling rain to honor the U.S. Marine again Saturday morning. This time, they unveiled a monument at his gravesite in the Ponchatoula Cemetery detailing his heroic actions that led to the nation's highest military citation being presented to him.

    What drew the veterans and Ponchatoula and Hammond residents to this site Saturday was a man they loved for his bravery who said what he thought despite the consequences, friends said. Yet they credit his impulsive nature to saving the lives of 19 Marines trapped in a minefield near DaNang, Vietnam, on Jan. 31, 1970.

    "He was a Marine you wanted with you when you were really in trouble," said retired Col. Walt Ledbetter, the commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263. Ledbetter flew the mission that led to Pfc. Clausen's medal. Ledbetter received the Navy Cross for the same mission.

    Clausen died at age 56 from liver disease on May 30, 2004. Since then, retired State Trooper and Vietnam veteran Phillip Monteleone of Ponchatoula spearheaded the formation of the Mike Clausen Foundation and efforts to raise $19,000 to pay for the memorial.

    The memorial wall includes a carving of Clausen and an artist's rendering of the mission that led to Clausen's medal. The other side displays a narrative of Clausen's Medal of Honor citation signed by President Richard Nixon.

    "This is not only for him," said retired Lance Cpl. Ed West, one of the Marines rescued by Clausen. "This is your Vietnam Wall in south Louisiana."

    Clausen did three tours in Vietnam and flew in more than 1,900 combat missions, Ledbetter said.

    On Jan. 31, 1970, Ledbetter briefed his crew on a mission to rescue two platoons trapped in a minefield. He warned the Marine crewmen not to get off the helicopter or they, too, would need rescuing.

    "I lowered the ramp," he said. "Mike Clausen looked out on that minefield and he knew what needed to be done. Six times he walked out of that aircraft. If he had not done that, the mission would not have succeeded."

    Ledbetter said Clausen's entry into the minefield while under enemy fire meant that the pilot had to land in that field only three times to collect all of the men. If Clausen remained inside, Ledbetter said he would have had to land in that minefield six to eight times, increasing the chances that the rescuers would have landed on a mine as well.

    The platoons were "Kingfisher" forces, dropped into battles by helicopters to surprise enemy forces. Once the platoons landed, they surprised the targeted North Vietnamese troops, who ran for the tree line for safety, said retired Lance Cpl. Steve Bish, a radio operator on the ground during the fight.

    The Marines followed and ended up in the minefield, he said.

    With directions from helicopter pilots surveying the scene from above, Bish was able to walk out of the field unharmed. Others, such as West, who lost both his legs when a mine exploded, were killed or wounded by a mine before they could be picked up by rescuers.

    West said he never had a chance to meet Clausen again after that mission. He saw Clausen only twice - once when Clausen carried him from the minefield on a stretcher and then again when Clausen covered West with flight jackets to keep him warm enough to avoid going into shock from his wounds.

    In civilian life, Clausen graduated from Hammond High School before signing up for the Marines. He married his wife, Lois, in 1976 and moved to Ponchatoula.

    He also survived a debilitating car crash, having to relearn how to read and write during his recovery, Lois Clausen said.

    He also worked as an inspector for Boeing at its aircraft refurbishing facility at Lake Charles, and she traveled every weekend from their home in Ponchatoula to see him there, she said.

    "He was a wonderful person," Lois Clausen said. "Everybody likes him."

  2. #2

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    WBRZ News has a video of the dedication at the below URL:


  3. #3
    Clausen dedication speeches inspire, despite rainy day

    Daily Star Staff Writer

    PONCHATOULA - The fading notes of "Amazing Grace" still clung to the chilly air, heavy with threatening rain, as the monument honoring Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Raymond Mike Clausen was unveiled yesterday.

    There were expressions of approval from the large crowd, huddled under a multi-color mushroom of dozens of umbrellas, that had gathered at Clausen's grave in Ponchatoula Cemetery for the dedication of the red granite monument and headstone.

    They stood, they looked, and then one by one began to move toward the seven-foot stone edifice to more closely inspect the etching and engraving commemorating the heroic feat that earned Clausen the Medal of Honor.

    They came from near and far, friends, relatives and especially military personnel, those who had known and had never known Clausen, for what may have been the final major ceremony in his honor.

    "Mike" Clausen was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military tribute, for heroic action during the Vietnam War. On Jan. 31, 1970, Clausen left his helicopter and waded through a heavily mined landing zone under fierce enemy fire to rescue six young Marines who had been wounded in an engagement about 20 kilometers southwest of DaNang.

    A native of Hammond and resident of Ponchatoula, he died in May 2004. For more than two years, only a small plaque marked his grave because his widow did not have the money for a headstone. Tangipaphoa Parish resident Philip Monteleone, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam in 1965-66 and who is also a retired state trooper, jumped into the breach. Assisted by Sgt. Greg Davis, also a Marine Corps veteran, Monteleone started a fund drive to finance a headstone and monument for Clausen.

    Monteleone was praised by state Rep. Henry "Tank" Powell, who told the crowd that without Monteleone's effort and dedication, no one would have been at the cemetery Saturday morning.

    Powell noted that he had taken Clausen to the state Legislature about a year before his death, where he received special recognition from both the House and the Senate.

    Marine Col. Christopher Holzworth, commanding officer of the Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21 headquartered at Pensacola, Fla., said in his address that it never rains on a Marine Corps function. Ironically, the rain stopped, except for an occasional drizzle, about 20 minutes prior to the ceremony, and did not commence again until the start of the unveiling of the monument.

    John Hughes of Hammond did not know Clausen personally but was attending the ceremony in place of a deceased friend, Harold O'Neill of Hammond, a Vietnam War veteran who Hughes said died about two months ago. Hughes, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam era, said he was amazed at the turnout for the ceremony, considering the weather.

    They came from almost all parts of the country - Texas, Maryland, Louisiana and Virginia. Lt. Commander Michael Thornton of Montgomery, Texas, a Medal of Honor recipient, represented the National Medal of Honor Society. Thornton, who received his honor as a Navy SEAL, said he had known Clausen for about 36 years. Although Clausen received his honor for one specific incident, he had actually flown many dangerous missions prior to Jan. 31,1970, and flew many more afterward.

    Holzworth said that the moment in time during which Clausen became a hero will never be forgotten. It will be a testimony to the courage and love of fellow soldiers for each other over the 231 years of Marine combat. He said it is the purest of love for mankind when a person risks his life for someone else.

    "That one moment in time defined who Mike Clausen was," Holzworth said. "Mike Clausen made a contribution of pure love to the Marine Corps."

    Army retired Col. Walt Ledbetter of Buford, S.C., was the commanding officer on Clausen's mission. The Marines headquartered on Hill 55 southwest of DaNang had been assigned to blunt a North Vietnamese Army attempt to create another Tet Offensive. On that day, Jan. 31, 1970, the Marines dropped in on a large group of North Vietnamese Army, surprising them as much as the Marines.

    Ledbetter said he had ordered Clausen and the other personnel on the helicopters to stay on board, that to get out and tramp around in a mine field and possibly get killed or wounded could cause worse problems. Clausen disobeyed, stepping out the rear ramp of his chopper almost as soon as it touched ground to begin gathering the wounded for evacuation.

    "What is written on that monument is not all Mike Clausen did," Ledbetter said "It was much more."

    Ledbetter said Clausen served three tours in Vietnam and flew 1,990 missions.

    "What he did that day he had done over and over before," he said.

    Ledbetter said Clausen was a legend among helicopter pilots in Vietnam. He said Clausen had the instincts and training to know when something was wrong and what to do about it.

    "This will be your Vietnam Wall in South Louisiana," he said.

    Steve Bish of Knoxsville, Md., was one of only two Marines who walked out of that landing zone that day. He was present for Saturday's observance. Ed West of Fisherville, Va., lost both legs to a mine blast. West was one of the six rescued by Clausen. He, too, was present for Saturday's observance.

    Clausen's picture is on both the headstone and the monument.

    Steve Fresnia, restorations manager for Carolinas Aviation Museum at Charlotte, N.C., said the helicopter that Clausen was using on the day of the Medal of Honor action is being restored to its original condition at the museum. Fresnia said plans call for it to be dedicated as an exhibit at the museum on Oct. 6.


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