Veteran remains service-minded

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

His father, a decorated World War II veteran, wasn't too keen on the idea when his son informed him that he had enlisted in the Marines.

In fact, he uttered a few choice words that will never make it into a mainstream newspaper. Those Marines, after all, were of the Vietnam era, a time when men who donned the uniform and were sent to remote regions of Southeast Asia had a very good chance of coming back to the States in pieces.

"Let's just say that he questioned my decision," said Mike Schloff, a defense attorney and a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association. "He knew the reality of war and wondered why I would volunteer for that type of duty."

It would take nearly four years before Schloff fully appreciated the gravity of his decision. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966 after spending one year at Wayne State University.

"Why did I join the Marines," Schloff asked rhetorically. "'I liked the uniform' would be the flip answer, but it was actually much more than that. I grew up in a blue-collar family and my father had volunteered for the Army. It was understood that everyone owed a debt of service to their country. I was bound and determined to fulfill mine."

He did, of course, during a tour of duty in Vietnam, and he continues to do so with his involvement with the OCBA Veterans Affairs Committee and Oakland County's Veterans Treatment Courts.

Schloff's Vietnam service may have turned out differently had it not been for the Marine recruiter at the Michigan State Fairgrounds that summer day in August 1966. Instead of pegging Schloff for infantry duty, the recruiter saw the future trial attorney as "officer material," routing him to Detroit for enrollment in a Platoon Leaders Class. It would allow Schloff time to complete his college education at Wayne over the next three years, a period in which he spent summers developing his Marine leadership skills at such outposts as Quantico, Va. and Fort Sill, Okla.

He began active duty as a second lieutenant in 1969, a time when the Vietnam War was approaching its peak, causing a political divide that seemed to grow wider with each U.S. casualty report. He shipped out to Vietnam in June 1970, arriving at the sprawling Da Nang Air Base located in the port city on the northeast corner of the splintered country.

"I can remember getting off the plane in Da Nang and being blasted by 110-degree heat and an incredibly pungent smell," Schloff said of his first greeting in war-torn Vietnam. "The first sight that I saw was a hangar full of steel coffins. From that moment on I began to realize that I was about to be involved in some very serious stuff."

Schloff spent a year in Vietnam, half of it stationed on a remote hilltop along the Laotian border. He was in charge of 52 Marines near the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

"Our job was to fortify the base and to engage anything that came down the trail," Schloff explained. "It was high risk work with daily combat."

Schloff considers himself among the "fortunate," returning to his homeland in "one piece." Like his father, he would return from war duty with a host of military honors. He would remain in the Marine Reserves until 1977, departing with the rank of captain and a heightened sense of purpose that has been further developed over the course of a 40-year legal career. Upon returning from Vietnam, Schloff enrolled in law school at the University of Detroit, using the benefits of the G.I. Bill to earn his juris doctor from the downtown school in 1975.

Now, 40 years later, Schloff maintains a steadfast interest in veteran affairs, volunteering his time and talents to a variety of worthwhile causes in support of current and former U.S. service personnel.

When he was president of the OCBA in 2008-09, Schloff helped launch the Veterans Affairs Committee, a panel that has grown to 45 members and includes attorneys who served in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. Schloff, along with committee members Jack Holmes and Bob Farnette, regularly appear in local Veterans Treatment Courts to provide legal assistance.

They along with others also have provided pro bono service to veterans in conjunction with programs sponsored by the three local law schools, Cooley, the University of Detroit, and Wayne State.

"We have helped those getting ready for deployment with the drafting of wills, powers of attorney, and other important family matters," Schloff said. "We also have represented veterans with disability claims, landlord and tenant matters, and family law cases. Cooley's Service to Soldiers program was a real success, as was U of D's Project Salute. We are now helping Wayne State launch its Advocates for Warriors program and we are excited about getting that off the ground."

Last May, Schloff was again reminded of the need for such outreach programs when word reached him of another tragic loss of life.

"A vet that we knew who suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) took his own life on Memorial Day in Milford," Schloff said. "Those kind of cases stick with you and give us all the more reason to help."

Such willingness wasn't readily apparent when Schloff and several others on the Veterans Committee Eric Wilson, Jeff Butler, and Jay Cunningham returned from active duty in Vietnam decades ago.

"We all remember our own experience of leaving the military when nobody was there offering a helping hand," Schloff recalled. "We want to make sure that is never the case again."

Published: Thu, Feb 12, 2015

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