Clint Majors contacted me after I sent a message via a SEALs web-site asking for info about Mike Collins for our 40th reunion yearbook. Clint served with Mike and provided me with a lot of detail about Mike’s assignment and a couple of facts I didn’t know before. He has been very generous with his time and obviously kept some records about his service in the SEALs. Clint’s story follows.
January 14, 2004
Bill, this is in reference of Mike Collins. Mike was killed in action 3 March 1971 during a SEAL operation in Vietnam. It is still hard for me to believe that so many years have passed since then. I considered Mike a dear friend; he was our officer in charge of X-Ray Platoon, and one of the most professional individuals that I have ever known. I was only a Third Class Petty Officer at the time but Mike was able to transcend Naval boundaries in a fashion that enabled him to lead, direct, guide, and care for his men in a manner that I tried to carry over into my own life since I first worked under him. I waited till late in life to bring children into this world and when my son was born (he is 12 years old now) the wife and I named him after Mike and myself. His name is Michael Clinton Collin Majors, he knows the name he carries, knows as much about Mike as I could tell him, has his photo on the wall in his bedroom, and a framed rubbing off the wall of the name under the photo. I have tried to give him a desire to attend the Naval Academy and take up a position of honor among men that love their God, their County, and they fellow man. This is the influence that one Naval Officer left burned in my heart 33 years ago. Memories of Mike Collins are perfume with the fragrance of honor and valor and burned into my thoughts with a rancid taste of gun smoke and death, but the vision I still see in my mind is one of a dashing young Naval Officer in Dress Whites. I salute Mike Collins and cherish his memory.
Here are the details you requested about Mike’s service while in command of X-Ray Platoon. Michael R. Collins graduated from BUDS Class 39 on 01 Nov 1966 and was attached to SEAL Team One at Coronado, California. I graduated from Class 54 and was attached to SEAL Team One in Feb of 1970 and I am not aware of what duties Mike performed prior to that time. I am aware that he held several jobs with the Underwater Demolitions Teams, and was very active with a youth swim program in the community of Coronado.
Once I was attached to X-Ray Platoon Mike was already in charge. The platoon flew out of North Island Air Base on Friday the 13th of October 1970 headed for RVN. We were dispatched to Ben Tre City, Kien Hoa Province in the heart of the Mekong Delta. SEAL platoons operated then on 6 month deployments and rotated back to the states, with a platoon consisting of 14 men. Normally this would consist of 2 officers and 12 enlisted, but we had Mike as The Boss, and an E-9 Chief as second in command. Before X-Ray Platoon was shut down officially on the 4th of March 1971 we would suffer 4 dead, including The Boss and The Chief. All other platoon members were wounded at least once and most of us 2 to 3 times. X-Ray Platoon would operate that 5.5 months with a total of 27 men coming in or out as either KIAs or WIAs. Once we departed RVN back toward Coronado only three of the original members of the platoon would make the flight home.
Due to compromise X-Ray Platoon would become know as the hardest hit SEAL Platoon in the history of the Teams. CIA came in and worked the problem - they concluded that we had been set up a numbers of times. Both sides setting us up; the enemy and the work of some very inexperienced American officers. One in question was the Ltjg. NILO Officer that had been placed on the Army base at Ben Tre. He had openly posted our cleared operational plats for the whole American and Vietnamese Army to see. Kien Hoa Province was a strong hold of Charlies and even the French had never controlled this province. American forces tried working the area with little results, and then we went in. First 3 months we kicked ass and took names, next 2.5 months they kicked our ass and took our names.
In Dec of 1970 our Chief and one 2nd class petty office were killed while 4 other SEALs were wounded numerous times right at the river bank as they inserted for an operation. I helped in retrieving the wounded and the dead; we secured the location for about 3 hours till sunrise. With light we searched the area and extracted, the SEALs never got a shot off, and we recovered over 1,000 rounds that had been expended by the enemy. Fighting holes had been dug and an enemy force upwards of 15 was waiting on them to arrive, the brief firefight lasted less than 3 minutes.
Mike never went in the woods without me, nor I without him. I served as radioman for the first squad and Mike as squad leader. He woke me on the Sunday morning of 28 Feb 1971 and asked me to act as patrol leader on an operation that we had been working on together. He stayed in the office catching up on paper work. We ran a very smooth operation and extracted by a small boat known as Light SEAL Recover Craft, but on the way back home we were rocketed by a small force with B41 Rockets. Results 1 dead, 6 KIA, and 2 SEALS lost legs. Marvelous air support saved our lives that day.
The PR77 radio that I still had on my back saved my life. I rode the helo to the hospital with the wounded and was kept 2 days myself at the hospital. First time I had been in the woods without The Boss.
The Boss on the early morning hours of 3 March 1971 ran an operation into the Than Phu Secret Zone, up a small tributary off the Ham Laiong River near the South China Sea. Insertion was by Medium SEAL Support Craft (MSSC) with the boat carrying all remaining members of X-Ray Platoon. A well laid out enemy ambush had been set. In a small river they let the boat go past the first ambush site up the river about 300 to 400 more yards a second ambush site had been posted. Once the firefight started the boat had to turn around and make its way thru the initial site and down river into another ambush site, which had the enemy covering both sides of the river.
In the initial firefight a rifle launched grenade exploded directly above Mike's head and he suffered massive head wounds. Medivac's were called in but refused to come in close due to massive enemy gunfire that was still going on. A black warrant officer (that has just died within the last few years) took control. After numerous requests for the helo's to come in and get Mike (they refused) he told them if they flew their helo’s anywhere near our boat that he would blow them out of the water himself.
Thirty to forty-five minutes later they were able to get Mike on board and headed for the Third Surgical Hospital at Binh Thuy. Mike died shortly prior to the helo landing at the hospital. But I can honestly say I believe it was for the best due to the nature and extent of the wounds. Stateside shut X-Ray Platoon down on the 4th of March and retired the Platoon's name.
Several of my friends working with another platoon in RVN in May of 1971 walked up to the home of a trained Vietnamese SEAL that worked with us and blew him away in front of his new wife. Intel of numerous operational times and places wound it's way back to him according to some government sources.
Bill, that is about as brief as I can tell it. I will post you a few individual photo's of Mike in the next couple of days. All I can request is that you inform his classmates that Mike was great guy, a good operator, well respected, loved by the individuals that worked with him, still thought of often and missed by each of us.
If I can add anything else please ask for it is my pleasure to talk about and remember Lt. Michael Raymond Collins.
Bill, a number of years the Navy built a new swimming pool on the Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado and named it after Mike. All members of X-Ray Platoon were invited to attend its initial opening ceremony. Mike had a young brother that visited with us prior to us going overseas; if anyone has an updated address on him I would appreciate having it. Mike is buried at the Point Loma National Cemetery that overlooks the entrance to San Diego Bay. Many of his friends are buried very close to his site.