3rd Platoon, A Company, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry Gia Dinh Province – June 19, 1967
Memorial To Monte, by Michael McDonald – August 20, 2003
It’s been nearly forty years since my friend Monte Harper died in a battle on the Rach Gia River on 19 June 1967. I knew Monte before he went into the Army. We went to the same high school in Palmdale, California, and played in a rock band together; although he was three years older, I was closer to him than to anyone else in the band. He watched out for me like a big brother. I never knew exactly what happened on the day he was killed, and had never been able to bring myself to try and find out until recently. My inquiries have led me to some of the guys who served with him, to whom I shall be forever grateful for their willingness to share with me some of their experiences. They also led me here, and gave me the opportunity to pay tribute to my old friend by sharing a few random memories.
I remember when we were just forming the band, “The Others”, in the summer of 1964. I played guitar, and we were looking for an organist. I had seen Monte playing at a steak house in town on Friday and Saturday nights, so I suggested that we invite him into the band. He’d studied organ formally since he was a child and was a very accomplished musician. He had never played rock and roll before, but he caught on instantly and, after playing with us once, went out and bought a portable organ for something like $800, which was a lot of money at the time, especially for a 17 year old kid. He took his commitments seriously, and I believe he was the best musician of any of us.
Monte was quiet, and generally stayed out of the incessant flare-ups and clashes of ego that typically plague bands, and which certainly plagued us. Usually it would be about one of us not liking the way somebody else was playing his part in a piece, or deciding that this one was intruding on that one’s part. Monte generally stayed out of such squabbles until, after some of the rest of us would fuss and fight for a while, he would speak up, and things would usually quiet down.
He was stocky and not what you would say was tall, though he wasn’t short either. When we were playing and he was behind his organ, we used to tell him he looked like a rooster because of the way he moved. It became known to all of us as Monte’s Rooster Dance.
Monte had the opportunity to become a musician in the Army, but he turned it down, saying that he wouldn’t feel right about having such an easy job while others were out fighting and dying. He got married just before he went to Viet Nam. Shortly before he died, he went to Hawaii on R & R, where he spent one week with his wife, Jenny. He was very ill at the time with the flu, and she tried to get him to report it, among other reasons so they could spend some more time together. He refused, saying that his buddies depended on him and he needed to get back to them. Had he stayed in Hawaii, he’d have missed the battle that cost him his life, which took place very soon after his return. Monte cared about his friends, and if they were going to be in the thick of it, then so was he.
I spoke to his father Merle and his stepmother June yesterday on the telephone. I’d like to have been able to visit them instead, but they live in southern California and I live 400 miles away in Sacramento. It’s been 36 years since I saw Merle at Monte’s funeral, and although I regret not contacting him sooner, I’m glad that I was able to talk to him and let him know that, even after all these years, I haven’t forgotten his son and what he did. He laughed when I told him how Monte used to show up sometimes at my house late at night when he’d been out partying and how my Mom would feed him coffee and we’d sit around the kitchen table and shoot the breeze until the early morning hours when she would finally decide that he was okay to drive home and let him go. It was all I could do to keep from breaking down when Merle said, “Yeah, he was a good kid. It’s a shame he didn’t make it.” His voice faded as he said it, and I knew that, for the moment, he was seeing his son as he would have been had Monte come safely home. God only knows how many times he has seen him that way throughout the long years since he received the news that his boy would never come home. And yes, it is a shame that he didn’t make it, along with all of the other thousands upon thousands of fine young men who gave everything they had to give.
The last time I saw Monte was when we happened to run into one another in front of a store one day shortly before he was shipping out for Viet Nam. We talked for a while about our days in the band and he told me some things about what it was like in the Army. When it was time to leave, I said good-bye to him. He said, “Don’t say good-bye. Say so long.” So that’s what we said. Then we both got back into our cars and drove away. I never saw him again. I guess this is a way to say it one more time: So long, Monte. Until we meet again. I’ll never forget you.
Michael McDonald – Sacramento, California