“I was with them the whole trip”
— Gary O’Neal, Ranger Hall of Fame
In 2013, Gary O’Neal with the help of noted author David Fisher released American Warrior, O’Neal’s autobiography. In it, among other prevarications, O’Neal claims to have been present when the bodies of Alegrett, Echanis, Sanders, and Nguyen were recovered (Page 176); to have escorted all three caskets from Managua to Boise/Ontario (Page 178); and to have personally stopped the funerals of Echanis and Nguyen so he could drive 60 miles to Boise, Idaho, to purchase an American flag for Bobby Nguyen’s casket (Page 179).
None of these events occurred according to eye-witness interviews, official USGOV/State Department cable traffic, and per accounts related to this author from the Echanis family, Son Tay raider SGM Jake Jakovenko, Ms. Kim Kennedy, and Master Chief Petty Officer Bob Nissley, the latter who was coordinating the return of the bodies and deconflicting challenges along the way with the State Department, CIA, and Customs from the Echanis home in Ontario.
“When O’Neal called me and said he was leaving the caskets at the airport in Florida I wanted to grab him through the phone and slam him up against a wall,” recalled Nissley, who served with MACV-SOG in Vietnam.
Pat Echanis, Mike’s mother, was equally disdainful of the Ranger Hall of Fame member’s “war story.” With M.C.O.P. Nissley cross-talking with U.S. Customs, the CIA, the FAA, and U.S. State Department arranged a new flight plan (all three caskets would now be flown to Boise, Idaho) by the LANICA civilian airliner. In Ontario, the funeral director arranged for ground transportation from Boise to Ontario, Oregon.
When Pat Echanis learned of O’Neal’s claim to have stopped the funeral services for her son and Bobby, she had this to say. “How can anyone make such a claim? That never happened. There were easily 100 people at the graveside. There was media from Ontario and Boise. A helicopter was circling overhead with a television crew. No one even knew who Gary O’Neal was except for Jake [Jakovenko]. He was nobody and if anyone had tried to stop the services for any reason they would have been answering to me!”
And what of the American flag O’Neal claimed to have stopped the funeral for Mike Echanis and Bobby Nguyen to make a 120-mile road trip to Boise, Idaho, to purchase? SGM (ret) Jake Jakovenko today scoffs at this sad exploitation of the Ranger Creed. “O’Neal brought a flag to the cemetery, and he wanted to place it on Bobby’s casket. Bobby was not a U.S. citizen when he died, and I told Gary no because of that. He got upset but kept the flag to himself until passing by Bobby’s open grave at the conclusion of the services. He tossed the flag down onto Bobby’s casket and then left.”
Upon being informed of the multiple errors, mistakes, and outright fabrications in American Warrior co-author David Fisher, much to his credit, called Ms. Liz Echanis, Mike’s sister, and apologized for his part in unknowingly misrepresenting her brother’s life and death.
Fisher then authored a letter of apology which was published in the local Ontario newspaper on September 3, 2017.
“I write this letter in an effort to correct the record about a local hero, Michael D. Echanis, who was born in Nampa and raised in Ontario. Mike Echanis served with honor in Vietnam, then recovered from wounds received there to become a celebrated member of the martial arts community…” — https://www.argusobserver.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/article_c4d63bb8-901f-11e7-9413-bfceeec6d647.html