By Sadie Williams
Mike Lynch was born in Binghamton, N.Y. on April 7, 1943. His father, a Warrant Officer in the Navy Seabees in WWII, died when Lynch was 6, leaving behind his wife and three sons. Although Lynch didn’t know his father growing up, he later learned just how similar their career paths were by reading his father’s letters home from New Guinea and the Philippines. Both men served in the navy as Seabees, and during their time both served two deployments in the south pacific.
As a civil engineer with the Seabees, Lynch built over 11,000 buildings and countless roads, bridges, and bunkers in Vietnam. He even built dozens of collapsible, single seat outhouses capable of being flown up the side of a mountain for marines stationed in fire support bases on the summits.
As Lynch describes it, “What we had, a tour in Vietnam, was two nine-month deployments with six months in between. My first deployment was August of ‘68 through April of ‘69. And then I went back in September of ‘69 and came home in April of ’70.”
“Initially I was responsible for a small department that provided all the construction materials for the department. Then I was put in charge of a company of 85 men, for the rest of that deployment, the home port, and then the rest of the second deployment. The second deployment was to an army base south of Da Nang. We built a lot of things. The second time, it was on the way down.”
Not only was the war “on the way down,” but Lynch and his men were now stationed further away from conflict, 100 miles south of Da Nang. In their first deployment they were stationed in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) “in the path of regular North Vietnamese troops moving south.” Fortunately, Lynch did not return to Vietnam after 1970; his battalion was deactivated when they came home in 1970.
Back in the US Lynch made his way to the naval station in Newport, R.I., where he served as the staff engineer. “I lived off base with several other guys. It was a great place, a good experience,” Lynch recalls, adding “I also joined the ski club.” It was his involvement with the ski club that eventually led him to Vermont. At the end of his time in Newport, Lynch departed for the ski club’s lodge in Okemo in the winter of 1971-2.
“It was two bucks a night,” he remembers. “We spent the whole winter skiing, then in March it started raining and it was awful so this other guy I was with, we got in our car and drove to Jackson Hole. It had only been open three years. It was brand new. Eight bucks a night to stay in a hotel.” Not only did Lynch lay down fresh tracks at Jackson Hole, he also spent a week at Alta and a couple of days in Colorado.
When the money started getting thin, he and his friend drove back East and boarded a plane for Europe. They had set aside funds for a backpacking trip, and spent the next eight weeks riding the Euro Rail between Switzerland, Italy, Germany, London, and France. Again, it was only when the funds ran out that Lynch was forced to return to the states.
In July of 1972, Lynch decided to move to Burlington to try to find a job. He had visited while he was staying at Okemo, and having liked the small city, decided to try his hand there. He immediately found work as a civil engineer and has been in Vermont ever since.
“I moved around. I went back to the navy reserve and I became the officer in charge of the Seabee unit in Burlington.” He switched from navy reserves to air guard in 1976, but never served active duty. After three years in the air guard, Lynch went to work for IBM, where he spent 24 years managing construction. At this point he left the reserves, having recently been married to his wife, Lois. Family came first, and he didn’t see the point of staying in the reserves if he was unwilling to serve when called upon.
One of his most memorable experiences at IBM was when he was stationed in Ireland for a year. ”My wife came over for the summer. We took off every weekend and decided, let’s just really see Ireland. We saw the whole country. Great people, great place.”
Of his experience with the military, Lynch concedes “I grew up. I had a lot of responsibility. But as a young man I got to go to the other side of the world.” Not many people can claim to have experienced the world like Lynch, but it’s not just his travels that are worthy of admiration. Not only did he lead a company in Vietnam, Lynch brought all his men home alive.
By Sadie Williams