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Michael Archer

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Book by Reno Author Revives Search for Missing U.S. Marine

New Evidence Reveals Potentially Promising Outcome in Cold Case

RENO, Nevada--(July 5, 2016) In the closing hours of the American occupation of Khe Sanh Combat Base in July 1968, after the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War, Tom Mahoney inexplicably walked away from his platoon, unarmed, and was shot to death by enemy soldiers hiding nearby. His body was never recovered.

In his latest book, The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited  (Hellgate Press, May 2016), Reno author Michael Archer, also a Marine veteran of the fighting at Khe Sanh, uncovers the reasons that led to  his childhood friend’s mysterious walk into oblivion. Yet, Tom’s remains are still in Vietnam after several disappointing efforts to find them over the years by the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accountability Command (JPAC).

“The exact map location of where Tom fell had been known for decades,” Archer said recently. “But for some reason JPAC kept looking on the wrong hilltop."

In addition to his vivid account of the fighting at Khe Sanh and poignant description of how the loss so adversely effected Tom’s family, friends and platoon buddies for years thereafter, Archer also describes his frustration with JPAC’s ineffective efforts. His years of independent research now includes information from both American and North Vietnamese military records and interviews with eyewitnesses, including one of the Vietnamese soldiers who ambushed his friend. Archer traveled to Hanoi and back to Khe Sanh in 2007; however, JPAC ignored the pertinent material he provided them.

“Most of the JPAC case workers, researchers and field team operatives are highly skilled and dedicated to the mission,” Archer said. “But I had the distinct feeling that somewhere in the command hierarchy they didn’t like the idea of an outsider questioning their methodology, and so chose not to consider my research.”

Finally, after yet another failure to find any evidence of Tom’s remains during an August 2014 excavation, Archer was officially contacted by a JPAC representative asking for his help to ensure that future efforts would have them “digging on the right hill.” Archer obliged, and three weeks ago, on June 13, 2016, a field team accompanied by two American witnesses to that tragic 1968 event went to a more precise location——and the results have been astounding.

There they located the gate area through which Tom Mahoney had walked to his death; and, after workers cleared away the underbrush, found several pieces of barbed wire, a button and numerous hand grenade parts——including pins and unexploded detonators. Those familiar with the details of Tom’s death are excited by these, and other findings, because they show that there was extensive American habitation near where Tom was lost. The hand grenade pieces are even more encouraging, because the fighting that day by Marines volunteering to retrieve his body (three of whom were badly wounded) was hampered by the inability of everyone involved, including the enemy soldiers using Tom’s body as bait, to identify targets amid the thick vegetation——forcing them all into a lengthy hand grenade duel. No date has yet been established for an excavation at this new site.   

The Long Goodbye, a sequel to Michael Archer’s first book A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered (2005), has been described by one reviewer as “part battlefield account and part detective story... riveting and brilliantly told."  Combat veteran and Nevada’s Director of Homeland Security, Caleb Cage, calls the book “a gripping and astounding story.” Archer is also the author of A Man of His Word: The Life and Times of Nevada’s Senator William J. Raggio (2011) and, in addition to his writing, is currently a staff member with the Senate Committee on Finance of the Nevada State Legislature.