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Army Spec 4 Michael S. Osteen of Gulf Hammock went to Vietnam on Aug. 23, 1967. On May 5, 1968, at the age of 22 he was killed by hostile artillery fire in Pleiku Province in South Vietnam. He was one of eight — and some accounts say as many as 19 — U.S. soldiers who died that day when they were ambushed on Highway 14 about 8 miles from Kontum City while escorting a convoy. He was a member of the 4th Military Police Company, 4th Infantry Division.
The military police officer left behind a wife and family. He also left behind a friend, Roger Morgan of Williston, who never forgot him.
Because of all those people and the effort of County Commissioner Mike Joyner of Morriston (R-District 1), Osteen will be honored with a portion of County Road 326, from the Gulf Hammock Post Office to the boat landing at its end dedicated in his honor.
The ceremony will be on Monday, Aug. 6, at 10 a.m. at the intersection of U.S. Highway 19 and County Road 326.
The Levy County Commission unanimously granted Joyner and Morgan's request for the dedication at its July 17 meeting and ordered the county Road Department to proceed with making the signs.
Morgan, who sent a letter to Joyner that he read at the commission meeting wrote: “I speak from my heart, and on this subject my heart still has pieces missing.” Morgan said in a phone interview on Tuesday that Osteen, who was three years older than him, was like a big brother. Osteen was raised by his grandparents, Mae and Perry “Big Perry” Osteen. The elder Osteen was a law enforcement officer. The soldier married a local girl, Mary Swilley, who grew up on a nearby egg ranch. She now lives near Silver Springs, Morgan said. Morgan said Osteen was “a good-looking guy and a good guy people gravitated towards and a great outdoorsman.”
He said they often spent nights sleeping on the Wekiva River banks, “kind of like a Huckleberry Finn thing. … We loved to deer hunt and stuff. My goodness we fished a lot.” Osteen was always interested in law enforcement and that's why he went into the military police, Morgan said. “I guess he got that from his grandfather.”
Osteen and Morgan were lifelong friends who did many things together even to the bitter end.“I had only been in Viet-Nam a short time when I got word that Mike was killed in action,” Morgan wrote in his letter to Joyner. “One of the greatest honors of my life was to have the privilege of escorting Mike back home, as he had given his last full measure for all of us.”
Morgan said in Tuesday's interview he and his wife Judy checked the section of road that will be dedicated to Osteen.
“I have just been diagnosed with cancer myself,” Morgan said. “We rode down Sunday just where the sign would be and we were driving along 326 and I kinda pumped my fist in the air. I said I made you a promise that I would never let your name be forgotten. “With these signs he will even outlive me.”