Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a two-part feature on Max Morgan.
I found Max Morgan’s personal story so interesting and his experiences so varied that I could not consolidate his story within one Veterans Page, so welcome to Max Morgan’s Chapter II.
Once Max completed his Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) training he was assigned back to Coronado Naval base to a SEAL Team Platoon consisting of 14 men including two officers and 12 enlisted men.
While at Coronado, Max’s team trained for two months in small unit tactics and with a variety of weapons.
In late 1969, Max flew to Oahu, Hawaii, in a propeller driven Douglas Aircraft C-118 Liftmaster for seven days of training in a mock-up Viet Cong village where they practiced capturing Viet Cong communist troops.
“That flight to Hawaii, in an old propeller driven aircraft was slow, long and boring,” Max said.
After Oahu, Max and his team continued their grueling C-118 Flight to Vietnam touching down on every speck of an island before finally reaching Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon.
From there, they took a USMC Sikorsky H-34 helicopter to a unique floating base camp deep in the Mekong Delta located in An Xuyen Province, which is where Max served his entire tour of Duty.
The floating base camp, Sea Float, consisted of several pontoon barges lashed together to support water and airborne craft, and provide a roof to hold equipment and allow more than one hundred and fifty personnel to fight a protracted campaign. Two USN Seawolf helicopter gunships were also permanently based on the “floating fortress.” Life aboard Sea Float was sparse; fast-paced, and held daily dangers.
Max’s SEAL Team, Echo Platoon, was the first American ground force to challenge enemy guerilla fighters in An Xuyen and this area was a Vietcong/NVA (North Vietnamese Army) stronghold which proved extremely treacherous.
Max made it through over 50 missions during his tour of duty at An Xuyen, more than his fellow SEALs as he was their only Corpsman and operated with both squads.
Three SEALs were killed in action and seven wounded in action including Max during their tour of duty.
Ong Quyen Canal Ambush
During a small unit operation on May 5, 1970, Max was handling an M-60 Machine Gun aboard a Heavy SEAL Support Craft while going ashore on the Ong Quyen Canal when all hell broke loose.
Intelligence had reported a POW site was in the area, so their mission was on.
However, they were ambushed with enemy rockets screaming in along with heavy machine gun and small arms fire.
During the firefight, Max’s right hand was hit and shattered, but he managed to scramble and bandage his fellow wounded SEALs.
With a damaged landing craft and numerous wounded, they were forced to fight their way back out of that canal.
“That was one of my most harrowing experiences and I did the best I could to treat our wounded,” Max said. “I gave myself a shot of morphine in my thigh to help with pain relief from multiple shrapnel wounds.”
To grip an M-16 in order to finish his tour of duty, Max had a doctor mold a cast to fit his M-16 rifle.
Max earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for Valor that day.
Back to Coronado
Their Sea Float base was a target for enemy mortar crews as they were constantly shot at.
Every day and night they dropped concussion grenades into the Cua Lon River to void out VC (Vietcon) sappers (enemy soldiers who sneak in to blow things up) who routinely attempted to demolish their floating base.
Max’s tour of duty finally ended mid-1970 and his SEAL Team returned Coronado for four months, replacing their dead and wounded.
Next, in the dead of winter, Max’s platoon was sent to Chin Hai, South Korea, to train Korean Special Forces for one month.
Training exercises included a submarine designed for lock-ins and lock-outs – meaning, that these frogmen learned how to enter an area under water and depart the submarine for reconnaissance excursions into enemy territory and return to it.
“I nearly froze my ass off. I was never that cold my entire life,” Max said.
Max, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (E-6), returned to Coronado where he finished his five years of service and he was Honorably Discharged Jan. 15, 1971.
His awards include Combat Action Ribbon, 2 Bronze Stars w/V Device, 2 Navy Commendation Medals w/V Device, 1 Purple Heart, Gold Jump Wings, National Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Korea).
Pretty Face in the Crowd
Out of the Navy, Max returned to Santa Barbara briefly before attending Cal State Fullerton to resume his education, using the GI Bill, and graduating in 1974 with a degree in Communications.
While attending college he worked full time in the city of Fullerton as a fireman. Due to Max’s communications expertise he was assigned to make a fire safety presentation at St. Jude’s Hospital and during his talk he noticed a pretty face in the crowd.
That pretty face belonged to Pamela Collins who coincidentally, said to a Nun, “That fireman sure is cute. I wonder if he’s single?”
The Nun spoke to Max and the next day he went back to have Pamela paged. Upon seeing Max, she was pleasantly surprised.
Max said “Hi, I have some questions about x-ray because my sister is interested in being an x-ray technician (which was actually true).”
Pam thought that was a lame come-on, though when he asked her out, she coyly said yes and they dated for the next six months.
Officer Infantry School
Unbeknownst to Pamela, Max had joined the Marine Corps Dec. 29, 1976, which he purposely did not disclose to her thinking this news could derail their romance, so he held off until a later date.
Max was interested in flying F-4 Phantom fighter planes which was why he enlisted. To make a long story short, that did not play out, but he attended Officer Candidate School and became a USMC 2nd Lieutenant at Quantico, Virginia.
After OCS, Max attended Officer Infantry School for three months where he earned the most prestigious award in the class of 183 Marines, the “Leadership Award” and was presented a USMC Gold Watch.
Max’s next assignment was Quantico’s USMC Educational Development Command as an instructor for one year. He trained naval midshipmen in Marine Corps infantry tactics and then he was assigned to the most sought after USMC assignment, which was at Kaneohe, Hawaii.
Throughout this time, Max and Pam corresponded and periodically visited each other preserving their long distance relationship.
The Hand of God
Max served with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division as a weapons platoon commander for two years, however, part of that assignment was six months at sea with 500 Marines as part of America’s Pacific front line of defense.
Afterwards, Max was sent to Okinawa as a 1st Lieutenant Human Affairs Officer.
Max’s relationship continued with Pamela over five years, but there came one morning when Max suddenly awoke with an epiphany and suddenly acknowledged his love for Pamela was passionate.
Max knew instantly that he must marry her, which they did Aug. 23, 1980.
They’ve now been married 37 years.
“It was the hand of God at work. I’ve been truly blessed to have the best wife and mother to my amazing children that a man could ever hope for,” Max said.
Valor and Heroism
During a 180’ deep scuba dive at Okinawa, Max spotted two Japanese boys about to drown and, though he was in decompression, he risked his own life to save those boys.
For his bravery, he was awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Medal, the highest peace time award for valor and heroism.
Afterwards Okinawa, Captain Max P. Morgan returned to Coronado for his 2nd Honorable Discharge on Sept. 15, 1979.
His next adventure while living in Ventura, California, was as a roustabout on an offshore oil platform with Sun Oil where he worked his way up to Human Resources Assistant Manager.
Three years later, he became a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff for three years and then he joined the Beverly Hills Police Department for the next 17 years.
These days, Pamela and Max spend much time helping raise a grandson and spending time with their wonderful children, Travis and Casey.
Max loves his family and puts them ahead of all else. Besides family, their passion is gardening which includes maintaining 15 fruit trees.
Max is a very proud member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 355 and that he served his country as both, a Navy SEAL and Marine Corps infantry officer.
Semper Fi, Max!