Name: Michael Brellenthin
Rank/Branch: E3/US Marine Corps
Unit: Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, Khe Sanh
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record:
Date of Loss: 25 February 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 164500N 1061500E (XD850410)
Status (In 1973): Killed In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Ronald Ridgeway (Released 1973); several others
from same unit
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 1990 from one or more of
the following: correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources
including U.S. Veteran News & Report (April 1990), interviews. Updated by
the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
REMARKS: **NOT ON MISSING LISTS**
SYNOPSIS: PFC Ronald L. Ridgeway and LCPL Michael Brellenthin were in a
Marine weapons platoon assigned to a patrol outside the perimeter of the Khe
Sanh Combat Base. At approximately 9:30 a.m., the patrol made contact with
an NVA force of unknown size. Although the ambush site was within view of
the base, Brellenthin's unit was pinned down by heavy fire and attempts to
reinforce it were driven back by the NVA.
When the Marine unit finally was able to break contact and return to base,
they were forced to leave their dead behind. It was several days before they
could attempt to recover the dead because of heavy enemy activity. When they
were finally able to get back into the area, the Marines found that repeated
harassment and interdiction fire had badly scrambled the remains of their
fellow Marines. They recovered what they had thought were the remains of
nine dead Marines, none of whom could be individually identified. Among
them, according to the government forensics experts, were Brellenthin and
Those sets of remains were combined with the remains of nine Navy men who
had died in a separate incident and were interred in a mass grave in St.
On January 28, 1973, PFC Ronald Ridgeway, one of those 18 "dead" and buried
servicemen, was released from a POW camp in Hanoi. Ridgeway had been held in
South Vietnam with known POWs such as Harvey Brande, William G. McMurray,
and Dennis L. Thompson. The U.S. had no idea any of these men were POWs
until they were released. Ridgeway had come back from the dead, much to the
chagrin of the U.S. Government.
Although the relatives of seven of the Marines believed buried in St. Louis
found little hope in Ridgeway's return, Brellenthin's wife, Ruth, thought it
entirely possible that her husband might have escaped with Ridgeway. How
many others, she wondered, had been captured without the U.S. finding out?
For five years the government refused to give Mrs. Brellenthin information
about Ridgeway's whereabouts so she could question him about the incident.
When she finally found him on her own, it was 1978, 10 years after the
ambush. Ridgeway told her he had not seen Michael Brellenthin during or
after the ambush.
But an intelligence report obtained by Mrs. Brellenthin indicated that in
late February, 1968, approximately 20-30 American POWs were sighted near Khe
Sanh. According to the report, "Source observed several of the PWs wearing
'strange caps.' He described this cap as olive drab in color and made of
cloth. The caps described resemble the USMC fatigue cap."
The U.S. Government continued to state unequivocally that LCPL Michael
Brellenthin had been killed in action because Mrs. Brellenthin could not
produce proof otherwise. Although the government lacked positive evidence
that Michael was dead, its assumption that he was dead overruled Mrs.
Brellenthin's assumption that he might be alive. The Marine Corps has
admitted that some of those "buried" men could have been captured, but that
it is doubtful. Even though considerable doubt surrounds the identification
of the Marines buried in St. Louis, and, indeed, some of them might have
survived, official status change was denied.
Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports of Americans prisoner, missing or
unaccounted for have been received by the U.S. Government. It would not be
erroneous to speculate that if the U.S. received a first-hand live sighting
report on Michael Brellenthin, that report would be debunked because
"Michael Brellenthin is dead."
Although many experts who have reviewed the largely-classified information
relating to Americans still missing in Southeast Asia have concluded that
hundreds of them are still alive in captivity, the USG cannot seem to make
up its mind.
Meanwhile, how many wait for their country to come for them? Who will look
for men like Michael Brellenthin?
Michael Brellenthin was married only two weeks prior to his going to
Vietnam. His wife, who has recently remarried, is still actively pursuing
information as to her husband's fate. Ronald Ridgeway was hastily promoted
to the rank of Sergeant, in keeping with military procedure relating POWs,
upon his release.