In his quest to find the remains of his boyhood friend and fellow Marine lost to the mountains of Vietnam, Michael Archer met a solider for the other side.
“He looked at me and he had tears in his eyes,” Archer recalled. “He said, ‘You know, we’re pretty lucky.’ I started crying. You never expect to hear that from a man you were trying to kill.”
Archer’s latest book, “The Long Goodbye,” traces the story of Lance Corporal Thomas Patrick Mahoney III, who disappeared during the bloody, months-long Battle of Khe Sanh.
“He was one of the last people killed when we were abandoning the hill,” Archer said.
Although Archer was fighting in the same battle, he was in a different unit. Later, some of the Marines in Mahoney’s unit approached Archer, a known historian and avid researcher.
“They felt they left him behind,” Archer said. “That they abandoned him.”
Understanding survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder himself, Archer agreed to help them track down what happened to their mutual friend.
In doing so, he met with Vietnamese troops, including one of the men who killed Mahoney. While he uncovered what happened to his friend, he was also able to uncover his own conflicting emotions about the war.
“Going in, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It was this epiphany. I realized I never really hated these guys. I got a very unexpected sense of relief.”
Archer, who lives in Reno and works on the Senate Committee on Finance for the Nevada Legislature, will be signing books and speaking about “The Long Goodbye,” 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Browsers Corner Bookstore, 711 E. Washington St.
“The Long Goodbye” is a sequel to Archer’s first book and combat memoir, “A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered.”
In between the two, he wrote “A Man of His Word,” a biography of former State Senator William Raggio, who served as a Nevada lawmaker for 38 years.
Archer hopes his book resonates in today’s world — survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress and an ambiguous sense of defining the enemy.
“We have been in two Vietnam-like wars since then,” he said. “I hope it helps somebody.”