Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Veteran Mike Mahn poses at his home on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Signal Mountain, Tenn.

Mike Mahn kept a journal during his entire stint in Vietnam. He started writing in it on the first day of his deployment and wrote in it on his last.

"I kept it every day," Mahn said. "Sometimes just a brief note: what we did, where we were, the condition of the moon. That sort of thing."

Mahn had always wanted to be a writer. He had thoughts of being a newspaper reporter back in the day but ended up being a prominent Hamilton County attorney instead.

He did get to scratch the writing itch he had always had by compiling his journal entries that were stored away in boxes for decades to write a first-person account of his time in the service. The result was "American Passage," a self-published book that chronicles Mahn's journey from his time growing up in Tennessee to the Battle of Bunker Hill 10 in 1967.

Mahn was born in Murfreesboro and raised in East Ridge, one of seven kids. He graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1964. His father was a colonel in the Air Force and stayed in the reserves while working for TVA.

His father's service inspired him to serve in the Air Force. Mahn did his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. When he finished, his commanding officer gave him the choice to stay stateside. He decided to go overseas instead to help his country's effort as a K-9 specialist for security detail.


Name: Mike Mahn

Age: 74

Branch of military: U.S. Air Force

Years of service: 1967-1970



Mahn served in Vietnam at the height of the war: In 1967, '68 and parts of 1969. When he enlisted, Mahn said he felt confident in the mission he was assigned and felt like he had the American people's support. Over the course of 18 months, that started to change.

"I didn't know what I was getting into," Mahn said. "At the time it was just the cause of the era. At the time there was uniform support across the board. When I finished my second tour, which I volunteered to stay for, I thought we were winning. I didn't know we were losing it back here in terms of the political discussion."

Mahn said he started to wake up during his second tour and realized he and the other men were more focused on protecting each other at all costs instead of staying on point with that day's mission.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Veteran Mike Mahn poses at his home on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Signal Mountain, Tenn.

"I realized we were fighting with one arm behind us," he said. "That began to really affect me in my later days there. It bothered me."

Mahn said what surprised him most about his time in Vietnam was the intensity of the North Vietnamese people.

"I had great respect for them. They were very committed, great fighters, very smart," he said. "The people of Vietnam, they broke my heart. They were never prepared for this. They were a gentle culture, wonderful people. Just the impact of having 500,000 Americans being there, they were trapped either way."

Mahn said he has peace of mind at how the United States and Vietnam have been able to come a long way to settle their differences since the war.

On Jan. 29, 1968, Mahn wrote in his journal that the sky was filled with tracers, flares and fireworks. Nearly every American base in Vietnam was being attacked on the first night of the Tet Offensive. The next day, fighting "raged for ten hours," Mahn wrote, and 250 Vietnamese soldiers were killed while two U.S. personnel were killed and nine were wounded.

"Miraculous," Mahn wrote.

Looking back on the time he spent in Vietnam, Mahn said the relationships he made while he was there are what he is most proud of. After a handful of reunions over the years, he's lucky to have found closure along with the men who served alongside him.

Luckily for them, Mahn kept a detailed account of their time together that can be read for years to come.