A Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, Stephen "Mike" Siembab passed away in January after a life of serving his country and community.
Veterans, local officials and friends of the late Stephen “Mike” Siembab gathered at the Warren Vietnam Memorial on Sunday to pay tribute to the Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, who passed away on Jan. 7, 2023.
Siembab served as a pathfinder with the U.S. Army’s 10th Aviation Battalion, and received his Bronze Star for his heroic actions when his six-man Ranger reconnaissance team came under heavy fire while scouting an area north of Saigon on Aug. 24, 1969.
“His job was literally to be the first in and the last out,” said Dave McCarthy, a fellow Vietnam veteran and Master of Ceremonies for Sunday’s commemoration. McCarthy read from the commendation of Siembab’s actions that day, stating, “During the insertion, half the team had left the helicopter when they came under heavy fire…Mike jumped from the helicopter and, with machine gun blazing, he came to their aid.”
While he was returning fire, Siembab was shot and severely wounded.
“Disregarding his wound, he immediately laid down an effective base of fire, preventing the enemy from placing further fire upon the team and possibly overrunning their position…While his wound was being attended, he repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire while fearlessly continuing to fire his weapon and cover the team’s hasty withdrawal to the extraction point,” McCarthy read, adding, “He saved all six on that team and got them back on the helicopter.”
But McCarthy noted that Siembab’s dedication to his fellow soldiers did not end when he returned home. He assembled help from local Town Council members and, despite the growing wave of anti-war sentiment at the time, he successfully raised funds to dedicate a small Vietnam memorial in 1972 in Warren.
“I’ve seen the grainy photo of that dedication, there was only a handful of people here,” said McCarthy. “But they stood here, despite so much anti-Vietnam sentiment, and dedicated that monument. So Mike is a hero in two ways, both literally in Vietnam and figuratively here in Warren, and we thank him for that and honor him greatly.”
State Senator Walter Felag Jr. had a more humorous memory of Siembab, which culminated in a truly heartfelt moment. Felag recalled Siembab being relentless in his pursuit to get a Bronze Star license plate printed in Rhode Island. When it was taking too long for his liking, Siembab would remind Felag at every opportunity.
“A lot of times I thought he had a GPS on my car because whenever I got out of my car in my driveway, there would be Siembab. Whenever I went to a convenient store, there would be Siembab,” he said. He even recalled a time where Siembab managed to get passed the secure gate at his place of employment. “I have no idea how he got through the gate, but here he is coming up to me and he says, ‘When are you going to pass that Bronze Star plate?’”
Reaching into a bag, Felag pulled out that very plate — the first pressed in Rhode Island — which was passed by the general assembly last year but was unable to be printed until after Siembab had passed away. Felag presented it to Siembab’s wife, Sandi, who hugged him and wiped tears from her eyes.
For Sandi, the plate is a physical representation of her husband’s strength of character, strength of will, and physical strength to continue living despite all he went through as a soldier.
“Mike was not a guy who spoke openly about his time in Vietnam, but he lived it every day,” she said. “His strength was unbelievable. His surgical wounds always healed, but the psychological scars never left him. When you live with a combat vet, you really do get to understand the toll that war takes on one. PTSD is real, and thankfully it is now being acknowledged and treatment is available for our vets. Mike fought hard to live his best life every day.”
She implored all listening to honor Mike’s memory as he would have wanted.
“I hope Mike is looking down on us today and knows he will never be forgotten,” she said. “In Mike’s honor, please live by his example. Enjoy life every day, stay true to our country, honor our vets who serve now and have in the past, and pray and honor our vets who served and never came home.”