Mike was a quiet, humble and modest guy who you would probably never picture as a Special Forces (SF) Green Beret. He was not a big guy in physical size. But in his presence, Mike seemed huge… he was one of the toughest of the tough. I was proud to call him my Friend.
Born in New York City, Mike spent his formative years in Manhattan, NY, graduating from George Washington HS. In elementary school he was the school’s pianist but, decided he liked playing baseball and stickball better.
In 1961 he was drafted into the Army. He made a decision that as long as he was here, he would do all the things he could, that he would never be able to do as a civilian. All you had to do was keep volunteering, he said. He volunteered for medical training and airborne school. Then volunteered for Special Forces training.
Completing and graduating all these, he became a Special Forces Medic. He served in this capacity for the next 13 years, serving 3 tours in Vietnam, 5 in Thailand, training both US, Thai and Third World country soldiers.
After returning from Thailand he volunteered for Physicians Assistant School and was accepted, graduating in 1977 and becoming one of the initial 400 PA’s in the Army. He then served 2 years with the 82nd Airborne Division and 2 tours in South Korea, retiring as a Warrant Officer after 20 years of service.
Mike continued to work as a Physician’s Assistant after retiring from the Army, for the next 30 years. First in Alaska and then in Las Vegas, retiring in 2007 at age 70.
Mike was predeceased by his parents Freda and Lewis Stern, and his Son Bruce M Stern, he is survived by his beautiful and loving wife Kap Yun “Sandy” Stern and Son Donald Spanton (Anna), daughters Kim Moeller, Lee Nistler and Sue McCoy and 10 grandchildren.
Mike saved my life in 2006…
In Chapter 51 we referred to Mike Stern as “Doc.” If Mike hadn’t taken my pulse and told me to “Get an Angiogram… get one NOW!” in the parking lot of the 50s Diner on East Desert Inn Las Vegas, Nevada after breakfast one Wednesday in 2006… I’d be a goner like my Father. I had a family genetic defect that few doctors knew much about or how to deal with… let alone how to identify it.
My condolences to Mike’s wife “Sandy” (What a CLASSY LADY she is), family, Friends and all Chapter 51 Members. We’ll all miss this man. Me especially, as it is still a mystery to me how Mike Stern knew I had a problem. That was after 3 Las Vegas doctors examined me in the hospital after two days of testing and said… “You can go home now, Mr. Lawson… there’s nothing wrong with you!”
Mike was an Angel sent by God to me that day. I rarely talked to him, he was so quiet and modest. But we were looking at the late RL’s new Harley-Davidson motorcycle and in passing, I said a few words to Mike. When Mike did engage with you, like most Special Forces guys, it was in a manner that got your attention and with a resonant, imposing voice.
Mike asked me that day how I was feeling… not how I was doing. It was like he could see something about me was wrong. I think back now to how strange it was that Mike asked me “How are you feeling?” He had no knowledge of my previous problem, because I hadn’t said anything to anyone in the Chapter.
I told him I was okay, but just got out of the hospital for chest pains. I am still dumbfounded as he dug into the issue right then and there. How in God’s Name he bloody determined the problem on the spot by taking my pulse and asking me questions for 10 minutes… I’ll never know. But I was to find later that I was 100% blocked up. I know now that Mike sensed it.
I remember standing in the parking lot looking at the concern on his face and asking Mike… “What’s the matter… do you think something is wrong?” Mike told me… “Go back to the Veterans Administration (VA) and tell them you need an Angiogram!” I asked him… “What’s an Angiogram?” and he replied… “Never mind what it is, just go get one! Get in your car and go there NOW!”
I did. After arguing with the VA, they put my wife and me on a plane to the VA/Loma Linda University Hospital in CA. I am the Poster Boy for Loma Linda hospital cardiology. They’d never seen anyone 100% blocked up who hadn’t had a heart attack and was lifting heavy weights and running like I was. They were astounded! They did me right away as they were afraid I’d have a heart attack right on the table. They had a parade of cardiologists come in and look at me and they made an educational video of me.
The doctors thought I was spared in some manner by a strange reverse back-flow of blood oxygenating my heart from all the running and weightlifting I was doing. But all that occurred only after Mike’s evaluation and insistence. Three cardiologists didn’t know after all the previous testing. Mike knew in 10 minutes by questioning me while he held my wrist feeling my pulse and somehow sensing my issue from my blood flow.
Read about a REAL TOUGH MAN…
Mike was quiet when he sat at our long table each Wednesday for the Chapter get togethers at breakfast. I would usually set next to Colonel deFontaine, who would help me understand what was being said, my poor hearing being a huge problem before I got hearing aids.
I remember reading the book “The Ether Zone” about Special Forces B-52 Delta teams in Vietnam, who another SF friend, Leonard Tyner of Utah, gave me for presenting a program on The Bush War I was involved with in Africa, to a joint meeting of the Utah and Nevada SF Chapters.
I have a hard time reading because I’m Dyslexic, but I devoured that book. I was astounded that American men were as gut-wrenching courageous and became more capable and deadly than the Vietnamese, who were native to the jungle. These SF guys became better than them in their own backyard.
If you read “The Ether Zone,” you will see what tough guys are. But to give you an idea, they were dropped in miles from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and would move next to it to identify and report on troop, munitions and weapons movement into South Vietnam towards the end of the war, spending days in the jungle motionless, observing.
An incredible unit with a deadly and dangerous mission. Camouflaged, they were so close to the enemy and in such thick jungle, that the Vietnamese Regulars would step into the jungle and unknowingly take a piss on them. Delta guys would eat Vietnamese rations made for them specially in Taiwan so their breath would smell the same as a Vietnamese so not to betray them. They would spend an entire day crawling as little as 100 feet, snakes, bugs, leeches and mosquitos sucking the blood out of them as they moved around, close enough to listen to their enemy’s conversations. The book was amazing.
I quietly asked my late friend Jerry Hocking at one breakfast if any of the Chapter members were in Special Forces B-52 Delta teams. Jerry subtly pointed at Mike Stern sitting on the other side and a way down the table. I had a new found respect for the man. As a Green Beret Medic, he was a deadly man who I’m sure saved more lives than he took.
I was in another war… I wore the green beret of the Foreign Legion Special Forces in Africa in an anti-terrorist rapid response airborne unit. I go out of my way to let people know I was not an American “Green Beret,” as I feel I’ve done spit in the ocean compared to these guys.
But the Chapter has taken me into the fold… like caring and concerned parents would an orphan that now one else wants or understands. Many of the guys of Chapter 51 I knew, since Author Robin Moore got me involved after we met in Africa, are in Valhalla… passed on. Robin wrote the book “The Green Berets” back in 1963 and introduced me to the late Colonel Sully H. deFontaine and many others. I used to stay at Robin’s house in Africa.
On his death bed in 2008, Robin asked me to write Sully’s story about rescuing 239 people from certain death in the African Belgian Congo. So, I wrote the book “The Slavers Wheel” from Sully’s memoirs at Robin’s urging.
The odds are that I should be dead. I could see in Mike’s eyes that he was genuinely pleased to hear what he’d told me to do had helped me avoid a deadly situation after my operation. But he never said a word to me about it… he knew. We began to converse more freely at breakfasts after my surgical operation. I tried to pay Mike back with cheap breakfasts at every meeting we had in the months to come. Mike just laughed when I told him that. Then I moved… and now Mike has gone on further down the path.
I think since Mike has learned the Grand Secret, I know he’s probably helping others in some manner where he is… and looking down at Sandy and his family and friends with a smile on his face. Mike knows the secrets, because he is a caring warrior with goodness in his heart. I suspect that somewhere in another dimension of the galaxies, unknown to us, just outside the doors of Valhalla… a guy known to others there as “Doc,” stops to talk with another. He asks… “How are you feeling?” as he gently cradles the other’s wrist to feel his pulse…
Like Mike, these men of American Special Forces walk into a room full of people with self-assurance. They are humble and confident. They know what they can do… and have done. They do not have to try to impress on anyone their capabilities. American Special Forces Members are some of the most intelligent, humble, capable and finest human beings I have met. I have learned much from them… and I hope to share a table with them in Valhalla.
Be prepared. Become Self-Reliant. Then relax, enjoy each and every moment of life… and love your family with uninhibited passion.
— Author Jack Lawson