Retired Maj. Gen. Michael Healy, Green Beret and decorated veteran of Korea, Vietnam, dies at 91
etired Major General Michael Healy enlisted in the Army at 19, launching a distinguished 35-year career that included 5½ tours of duty in Vietnam, during which he picked up the nickname “Iron Mike.”
He joined the Army the end of World War II. During the long career that ensued, his assignments included leading the Army Airborne Rangers and making parachute landings in the Korean War, leading Special Forces in combat from nearly the start to the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and earning honors that included three Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, seven Bronze Stars with Valor and two Purple Hearts.
His exploits in the Special Forces — the Green Berets — earned him mention in several books and may have been part of the inspiration for John Wayne’s character in the 1968 movie “The Green Berets.”
One of Healy’s proudest moments came in 2015, long after his 1981 retirement, when the commanding general of the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Maj. Gen. James Linder, awarded Healy the Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment award, essentially enshrining him in the Special Forces ring of honor.
“Gen. Healy is not just significant in our community, he is a genuine icon,” Linder said. “Only a very, very small few walk in the formation that Gen. Healy does.”
Healy, 91, died April 14 of natural causes in Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville Fla., according to his son Patrick. Healy and his wife, Jacklyn, who survives him, moved to Jacksonville around 1998 to be closer to some of his sons.
Healy grew up in Chicago, where his father was a police officer. After graduating from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, he considered studying for the priesthood at the since-closed Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago. But World War II, while nearly over, was still being fought and Healy decided to sign up.
He graduated from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1946, and later served as a young lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry Division and the army of occupation in Japan, where he completed parachute training. It was also in Japan that he met his future wife. The two married in 1949.
During the Korean War, he joined the newly-formed Airborne Ranger companies as platoon leader and later company commander with the 4th Ranger Company, working in special operations.
He next served in command and staff officer positions at Fort Campbell, Ky. After completing the infantry officers advanced course, he became a team commander with the newly formed 77th Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C., where he was also an instructor at the Special Forces Warfare Officers School.
After attending the Marine Corps Officers Advanced School in Quantico, Va., he became a team commander and operations officer with a Special Forces group in Europe.
In July 1963, he started his long involvement in Vietnam as an operations officer and senior adviser to the Vietnamese special forces at a time when few Americans were in the country.
Over the next several years, Healy commanded several battalions in Vietnam. In early 1967, he became executive officer and special assistant to the deputy U. S. ambassador, working in the office of civil operations.
After a stint stateside, he returned to Vietnam for a third tour, eventually commanding infantry in the Mekong Delta. He left the country briefly but was recalled to Vietnam by Gen. Creighton Abrams to command a Special Forces group.
John Tobin, a retired colonel, was a young sergeant in a Special Forces mobile strike group on Vietnam when Healy took over command of the group.
“Healy introduced himself,” Tobin said, then issued his first order. “‘Gentlemen,’” Tobin quoted him, “‘I’m giving you a direct order. You are not allowed to die. I cannot replace you.’”
“You knew how much he cared about you,” Tobin said.
Healy left Vietnam in 1970 for command positions at Fort Bragg, but Abrams brought him back to Vietnam in 1972 and he remained there until U.S. combat forces left the country in 1973.
On return to the states, he took over command of the John F. Kennedy Center and Institute for Military Assistance at Ft. Bragg. He was promoted to major general and remained in command until October 1975.
Retired Col. Bruce Cobb met Healy in 1966 at Ft. Bragg and served as his aide there in the mid-1970s, “He was definitely a hands-on, out-front kind of guy, always available,” Cobb said.
Healy, Cobb said, attracted loyalty from those with whom he served. “He was very loyal to you if you demonstrated a willingness to be loyal to him,” Cobb said.
His final assignment was as commander of Army Readiness and Mobilization Region V at Fort Sheridan, where he had enlisted as a private 35 years before.
After his 1981 retirement from the Army, Healy came back to Chicago. While here, he was asked by Mayor Jane Byrne to help with security for the Chicago Housing Authority but never went forward with that, his son said.
Former Tribune reporter Bill Currie wrote about Healy around the time of his retirement in a story for a Tribune magazine. “What I remember best about him was how enthusiastic he was about life and living and the Army and about his love for our country,” Currie said. “He was a genuine character and had an extraordinary life as a soldier.”
Healy also is survived by five other sons, Daniel, Michael Jr., Timothy, Sean and Kirk; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
A service with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery is being planned.
REST IN PEACE!