US NAVY, VIETNAM ERA, CHINA SEA, 1960-64
Michael Lafferty spent much of his life serving others, first in the Navy during the Vietnam war. After returning to civilian life Michael would join the Findlay Fire Department in 1967 as a fireman. He retired in 1992 after being the Fire Marshall for nearly 20 years.
Born in Fostoria in 1942 Michael graduated from Fostoria High School in 1960. His mother passed away in July of that same year. Michael followed in the family tradition choosing to join the Navy as his father had.
Michael was an excellent swimmer and had been a lifeguard with the YMCA in Fostoria prior to enlisting in the Navy. He was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He chose to train as an Aviation Ordnance specialist with goals to travel and see other places.
His first assignment was with the VA 44 Squadron where he was trained on loading weapons and ordnance on a variety of aircraft, which included T-28 Trojan, A4 Skyhawks and the F9F Panther jets. This squadron was attached to the USS Shangri-la, a small carrier. He remembers his first six months were spent in the mess cooking and washing dishes, an assignment designed to instill in new sailors a deep respect for all jobs onboard a ship.
Michael would be transferred a squadron based on North Island, near San Diego. Here he would train on the Martin P5M Marlin, a “flying boat” that did long range reconnaissance patrols looking for submarines. He would earn his wings there as an aircrew member.
His next assignment was to join the VA-144 squadron at Miramar Naval Air Station. This was a “light attack” training squadron that used the T-28, A-40 Skyhawk and AD6 Skyraider prop aircraft. Here Michael became skilled loading 20mm cannons, 2.7 rocket pods, guided missiles on the aircraft for training new pilots.
In 1961 Michael was next assigned to the “Blue Ghost” the name of the USS Lexington, the namesake for the carrier lost at sea during WWII. He was officially a “red shirt”, the color worn on aircraft carrier decks by Aviation Ordnance crew members.
When Michael was still in boot camp he was advised to buy the best camera, he could afford and to take pictures of everywhere he would travel. His first purchase was an Argus C3 Match-matic 35mm camera. While on a six-month cruise that included stops in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines when his ship docked in Subic Bay on the island of Luzon, Michael took advantage of the Navy PX, purchasing a Nikon camera with a Nippon 43-86 mm prototype zoom lens.
The next ship Michael would be on was the “Connie”, the USS Constellation, the flagship of the fleet, where he served two tours in the China Sea from 1962-64. The Constellation was home to a A-4 Skyhawk attack squadron as well as a F4 Phantom II fighter squadro
Michael recalls, “One of my pilots, Lt. JG Everett Alvarez jr. , flying an A-4 Skyhawk on a mission over Vietnam, was the first pilot shot down and captured during the Vietnam war. Alvarez spent the next 8 years in captivity, the second longest time of any POW.
When Michael was growing up both his parents were expert marksmen sharpshooters with rifles. At the age of 11 Michael had begun shooting using a 22-caliber rifle on the police range located on the third floor of the police station. During his service aboard ship Michael would often compete with the Marines using an M1 rifle shooting at empty canisters tossed off the ship as the canisters bobbed away in the waves. “I always outshot the Marines! They were not happy!”
Michael left the Navy in 1964 returning to live in Findlay. He took a job with Findlay Industries as a press operator. He would meet and fall in love with Karin, a divorcee with a two-year-old son. They would marry on June 25th, 1965 and just celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. Michael adopted Karin’s son the following year.
Michael heard the Findlay Fire Department was hiring and tested for the position. He was hired in 1967, completed training at the Columbus Fire Academy and was assigned to the “South” station firehouse then located on the corner of Cherry and Main streets.
Michael fit right into the fire service becoming a member of the emergency squad. One of his firefighter jobs, partly because he was left-handed was to ride on the back of the old hook and ladders and steer. In 1973 Michael applied for an inspector position and was promoted. In 1975 the position of Fire Marshall came open. Michael was promoted to Captain and would serve as the Fire Marshall until his retirement in 1992.
He and Karin have lived in the same house for fifty years this November. They spend their days just enjoying life, riding matching Schwinn bicycles and for much of their marriage competing in rifle marksmanship events where they both held expert ratings.