LENKER, MICHAEL R. Name: Micahel R. Lenker Rank/Branch: SP 4/United States Army, crew gunner Unit: 58th AVN DET Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Rockford IL Date of Loss: 08 February 1968 Country of Loss: SVN Loss Coordinates: 164424N 1071907E Status (in 1973): Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1D Other Personnel in Incident: Purcell, Benjamin, returnee; Rose, Joseph, returnee; Chenoweth, Robert, returnee; Ziegler, Roy "Dick", returnee; George, James Edward, missing Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK 02 March 1997 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews, "Love & Duty", by Ben and Anne Purcell. REMARKS: 03/16/73 Released by PRG The 101st Airborne Division had a new battalion just outside of Quang Tri City. "Charlie" was everywhere around the city. Radio contact was yet to be established with logistics. A single band radio needed to be delivered there ASAP. Colonel Pen Purcell was the executive commander of the 80th General Support Group and deputy commander of the Dan Nang Sub-Area Command. Purcell decided to hand carry the radio on their way to Dong Ha to check on other troops. Warrant Officer Joe Rose was flying the UH-1 "Huey" and Warrant Officer Dick Ziegler was his copilot. The crew chief was SP/4 Robert Chenoweth, and SP/4 Mike Lenker was the door gunner. Pfc. James E. George, a refrigeration mechanic from Purcell's command, sat in the jump seat. Purcell handed the radio he had come to deliver to Capt Drake. Private George, the refrigeration mechanic, hurried over to repair the disabled reefer truck, which was his mission on this trip. Captain Drake and his commo sergeant got in their jeep and drove off. As Purcell started back toward the helicopter, he saw that the two pilots and Chenoweth had a panel raised and were looking at something. One of the radios was out and they could not fly back up through the overcast skies without it. They had to cancel the rest of the trip up to Dong Ha. Rose turned the helicopter toward the southeast and headed toward the coast. They were flying about three hundred feet or so above the ground - not high enough to be out of range of small-arms fire. Suddenly Warrant Officer Ziegler turned toward Purcell and shouted, "We're being fired on!" His next message was, "We're on fire!" The helicopter gave a sudden lurch and then the inside flared brightly with an orange light. Only seconds after the first round hit, the fire was already hot just forward of the transmission housing in the center of the passenger compartment of the helicopter. Private George and Col. Purcell were sitting on the outside seats as far away from the heat as it was possible to be. The helicopter made a sweeping turn to the right and toward the ground trailing fire and smoke. Rose fought to control the helicopter and to land it as quickly as possible. The helicopter hit hard and the tips of the rotor blades dug into the ground and broke as they struck a large granite monument. The helicopter was ripped to shreds by the ground impact and the flailing rotor blades. George, Chenoweth, Lenker, and Purcell loosened their seat belts and jumped out, but the pilot and copilot couldn't get out through their respective doors. They were trapped in their seats by the "chicken plates," as the aircrews humorously called the armor shields installed between them and their doors. The door gunner ran to the front doors and slid the panels back so Rose and Mr. Ziegler could get out. By the time he opened their doors, though, the pilots had already butted their way through the windshield. Ziegler was hit in the leg. George ran back to the ship to recover his M-14 rifle, which was lying on the floor between the pilots' seats. He drove right into the middle of the flames and the fire engulfed him instantly. Lenker and Purcell had to reach in and drag him out. Flames had licked at George's hands and face, and his skin there was hanging in strips. Lenker and Purcell had a hold of George and they half-carried and halfdragged the badly burned young soldier away from the burning helicopter. Ziegler was limping badly, his leg was bleeding, and George was in great pain and groaning softly. Soon after, the crew was surrounded by twelve Viet Cong. Realizing they had no chance to fight with few weapons and ammunition, the crew surrendered. As the VC forced them to move, the injured George asked Ben Purcell to pray. The VC soon put an end to the prayers -- Purcell was forced to move off and a shot was heard. James E. George was believed executed that day. His remains have never been found. In 1992, the Purcells wrote a love story entitled "LOVE & DUTY" -- the remarkable story of a courageous MIA family and the victory they won with their faith. This short biography was written with information from their book.
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors). UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO MICHAEL R. LENKER Sergeant- United States Army Captured: February 8, 1968 Released: March 16, 1973 For many prisoners of war, survival was a question of faith. And so it was with me. I was one of the lucky people in this world. My secret strength was in my family, a close knit unit which carried me through 1,864 days of captivity and have enabled me to step back into the world feeling I had been gone five days instead of five years. I was captured in February 1968. I was a helicopter door gunner in a ship that was ambushed near Quang Tri. I spent the next five-plus years in prisoner of war camps - first in South Vietnam, but for the majority of the war, in three different North Vietnam camps. As I said, my survival was in the faith I had in my family. The memories of the Sunday trips to the lake, the memory of my parents standing behind me when I got in trouble, the memory of my sister and our relationship - these were the things that helped me survive the rice, soup, bread and water diet and the constant attempts by the communists to make me believe my family and country had forgotten about me. Life in a prisoner of war camp was a constant battle against boredom and the will to keep going when the going got rough. Like so many other prisoners, I was twice beaten - once for being a member of an escape committee, and once for pounding on a wall. During five years of captivity, I learned a lot about myself. I learned how a young boy becomes a man and accepts his responsibilities. I learned the importance of military discipline, and how it and it alone can hold men together. I learned the importance of pride in one's person. The importance of keeping the faith, and knowing it's possible to endure one more minute of pain and one more disappointment. Perhaps the greatest lesson, however, was the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of American people didn't forget about me and my comrades. That, more than anything else, was the important thing. And now the war is over. Or is it? We, as Americans, cannot forget about our comrades who are not yet home. The MlA's must not be forgotten. Those who have died or suffered permanent disabilities cannot be forgotten. America and everything it stands for cannot be forgotten. More than anything else, 1,864 days of captivity proved to me that America is the best the world has to offer. It didn't lose faith in me, and I refuse to lose my faith in it.
Michael Lenker still lives in Illinois.