Postscript Mike Brown

Mike Brown, Vietnam War veteran, owner of Devane Electric, died Dec. 22 at age 70.

Like many Vietnam War veterans, Mike Brown kept many of his memories to himself.

However, shortly before he died Dec. 22 at age 70, he told the story of burying himself in a rice paddy to escape an enemy attack.

“They were expecting about 30 of the enemy to get off a ship, but it ended up being 300,” said Donnie Brown, Mike’s wife of 43 years. “So, he and (another man) dug into the rice paddy and buried themselves in the dirt as the whole troop of the enemy walked across them,” she said.

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When mines started going off, Brown told the men under his charge to retreat.

However, as a new lieutenant saw them coming across the paddy, he thought they were the enemy and gave the order to open fire.

“Only Mike and an interpreter survived,” Mrs. Brown said.

The two men went to a reconnaissance location, but no one was there, so they made their way to the base camp through the jungle with only a compass to guide them.

At the base camp, everyone was dead. So, they went to a second reconnaissance location where they were rescued.

“He lived through a lot in Vietnam,” Mrs. Brown said. “I have the letters he sent his mom. He was 19, and in one letter he enclosed his target practice card from boot camp. Then when he was actually in Vietnam, he wrote, ‘This is just like boot camp except now the bullets are coming back.’

“When he got back, he and some of his pals landed in San Francisco,” she added. “He was so excited to be back, but as they walked down the street in their uniforms people were screaming at them and throwing things.”

After hearing that his brother, Scotty, was drafted, Brown volunteered to serve two back-to-back tours in Vietnam so his brother wouldn’t have to go.

“He never thought the country owed him anything for his (military) service,” she said. “He just did what he was supposed to do.”

After he was discharged from the Army, Brown returned to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, and joined the Atlanta Police Department.

“He was the youngest officer — at the time  to be promoted to detective,” said Mike’s daughter, Leslie Bollin. “That’s something we were always proud of, and he was proud of.”

While on the police force, Brown gained local fame for solving the “Willie B.” case.

Willie B. was a gorilla at the Grant Zoo (now Zoo Atlanta) in downtown Atlanta, that loved to watch TV  until someone stole the TV that was outside Willie B’s cage.

“This was a big deal in Atlanta,” Mrs. Brown said.

People made T-shirts and protested, clamoring for the return of Willie B’s TV.

“Mike actually recovered it, and he was a hero in Atlanta,” she said. “He got a lot of the crazy cases, like a dognapping … he was chauffeur for the mayor, and he saved someone’s life. They made him a detective after only five years.”

Although he loved being a detective, when his first daughter, Lori, was born, he decided to do something less dangerous and he moved his family to Crystal River in 1980, going to work with his father-in-law, Don Devane, at Devane Electric.

He eventually bought the business in 1996.

Throughout his life in Citrus County, Mike Brown was active in the community: Crystal River Civitan Club and the Civitan Blood Bank, building houses with Habitat for Humanity, volunteering with the Key Training Center, being a trustee at Crystal River United Methodist Church and helping to restore the historic AME Bethel Church on the CRUMC property, serving on the former Withlacoochee Technical Institute board of directors.

He especially loved volunteering with the kids at Crystal River Primary School where his wife, Donnie, is principal, mentoring, playing checkers, helping with science projects, building cardboard arcade games, planting eel grass, running fall festival booths.

“He was everything a dad should be,” said his daughter, Leslie.

Son-in-law, Matt Meeks, met Mike Brown a year after his own father died of cancer and said in his eulogy that Brown “quickly became the father I needed” and that Brown treated him like the son he had always longed for.

“He truly was a selfless soul, blessed with a gift of making everyone around him feel special,” Meeks said. “As a husband, father, grandfather and friend, I can think of no better role model. I know he will be missed, but never as much as he was loved.”

Mike Brown was a jokester with a dry sense of humor and had a flair for crazy sayings like “snail snouts and lizard lips” and “we need a stinger extraction” and telling scary “Krumpton Booger” stories.

He was a decorated war veteran, loving, generous to a fault.

A man’s man, he loved hunting and boating and anything outdoors.

“He could fix anything with anything  we called him McGuyver,” Mrs. Brown said.

And he was a ROMEO  “Really Old Men Eating Out.”

That’s what he and a group of men called themselves as they met to eat at local restaurants every Friday.

“There’s about eight of us, and we’re just a bunch of really old men who like to eat,” said Don Bienkowski.

Brown, a “meat and potatoes” guy, loved country-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy and German chocolate cake.

He also loved eating seafood at the Crab Plant and Charlie’s Fish House in Crystal River.

“I’ve known Mike for more than 30 years  our kids grew up together,” he said. “He pulled up in my driveway one day in a Volvo and said he lost a gas cap and did I know where he could get one. After that, we were friends … I’m going to miss his friendship. You could always count on him.”

Brown’s cousin, Julie Tryon, said she didn’t get to know him until they were both adults, and she used to watch him interact with his wife and kids, how he would look across the room at Donnie, “grinning at her with love in his eyes.”

“I would think, ‘Oh, that’s what a family man looks like  owning a business, making intelligent money decisions and providing a comfortable life for his family  oh, that’s what a responsible man looks like,’” she said. “He … showed me what an honorable man looks like. Making it out of Vietnam alive and dealing with his battles of the last few years, Mike has shown me what a true warrior looks like.

“Twenty years ago, when my only child, Grant, was born, my husband, Dave, and I needed to decide on a guardian ‘just in case.’ Over each of our brothers, we asked my cousin Mike,” she said, “because he was the best man I knew to raise my own son.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.