Michael D. Healy was a legend in a community of legends.
They called him "Iron Mike."
The retired Special Forces major general was portrayed by John Wayne in the 1968 film, "The Green Berets." He fought in Korea and Vietnam. At one time, he was the U.S. Army's "most battle-tested officer," according to The Fayetteville Observer.
Healy died at 91 on April 14 in Jacksonville, according to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.
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Healy spent much of his 35-year career at Fort Bragg before retiring in 1981.
He earned three Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, seven Bronze Stars with Valor, two Purple Hearts and more, according to The Florida Times-Union.
Healy, 19, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1945 at Fort Sheridan, Ill., just two months shy of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II.
A year after enlisting, he attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. before being deployed during the Korean War.
After Airborne and Ranger schools, as an officer with the 4th Airborne Ranger Company, Healy experienced combat for the first time in 1951 during a jump into a South Korean village. There, according to a Feb. 1, 1981, article in his then-hometown Chicago Tribune, he was stabbed in the leg by a North Korean bayonet, but captured a vital hill.
It was then he earned his "Iron Mike" moniker and a Bronze Star with Valor for his efforts.
He'd see combat again in 1963 in Vietnam as a Special Forces colonel. He served five tours in Vietnam — nearly eight years. He later oversaw the removal of troops from Vietnam.
He would go on to command the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg. He also served as assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
After retirement, Healy would go on to earn a master's degree in social sciences at the University of Chicago before turning his attention combating Chicago's deadliest gangs. His father was a Chicago cop, who became chief of police.
Special Forces Association Chapter 37 in Chicago was named in Healy’s honor.
“Maj. Gen. Mike Healy is a true Special Forces legend, not only for his actions during war, but for his leadership and vision during a pivotal time in the Regiment’s history,” Maj. Gen. Kurt L. Sonntag told The Fayetteville Observer on Tuesday. “We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his vision, leadership, and for the professionalism he brought to the force. His passing is truly a loss that we all feel, and we’re keeping his loved ones are in our thoughts.”
Healy was the inspiration for several books. Late author James Jones wrote of Healy in "Viet Journal": "There was always one thing about Healy. You knew his aggressive physical courage was monumental and that his nerves were steel."
Healy was known by his men for his loyalty, compassion and love, as much for his tenacity in war, according to the Special Warefare Center and School.
“This is the highest honor that I have ever received, but it’s not really mine,” Healy said in 2015, according to the Times-Union, when he was awarded the Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment award in Jacksonville, as tears rolled down his cheeks. “This honor belongs to every soldier I was ever honored and permitted to serve with."
“All the times that things would go very bad, another soldier stood by me. They gave me their hearts and a lot of them, their lives. I never forget them. Every night I speak to them.”