John Colone

John Colone, the self-styled Mayor of Hell, Michigan, likes to joke, “Every morning, I get up and go to Hell.”

Colone, who began buying real estate in the unincorporated hamlet sixty miles from Detroit following the sale of his well-known Pinckney Chrysler/Plymouth dealership, maintains a steady sense of humor about his adopted hometown’s name, which itself was founded on an amusing note:  When George Reeves, one of the town’s first settlers was asked what he thought the town should be called, he reportedly replied, “I don’t care. You can name it Hell if you want to. ” The name became official on Oct. 13, 1841.
Colone’s upbeat personality and tongue-in-cheek attitude toward his ‘daily trips to Hell’ are endearing.  But when you spend some time listening to and reading about his experiences in Vietnam as a Sergeant attached to the 101st Airborne 3rd Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry in 1967 and 1968, the smiles and chuckles disappear rather quickly. 

It’s apparent by his story that John Colone has indeed spend time in the very guts of Hell.

“On February 19th, 1968, Alpha Company had crossed the Ca Ty River west of Phan Thiet to conduct a search and clear operation when we were ambushed.  It happened that my platoon took the bulk of the small-arms fire, and within a short time, nearly every man in my unit was killed or wounded.”

Colone himself was shot five times in the space of forty minutes.  The first shot, through his upper thigh, left him immobilized in a dry rice paddy in full view of the enemy and he lay helpless as bullets struck around him.  The second shot struck his M-16, destroying it and sending shrapnel into his shoulder, chest and arm which he carries to this day.  After this injury, fellow infantryman Donald F. Marshall II, a Spec 4, crawled to his position, and was in the process of applying a tourniquet to the wound when he was shot and killed by enemy fire.  Marshall’s lifeless body fell across Colone, where it lay until Colone was able to make an escape—but not before he’d taken three more bullet wounds.

“I lost consciousness, and have vague recollections of lying in a medivac chopper naked and trying to figure out why.  Later, I have distinct memories first of twice falling off what I took to be a pile of logs, and then, of a woman in a white coat, with a medallion of sorts around her neck, raising her hand and telling me, ‘Not yet… Not yet…’

In fact, as he was later to learn, his clothes had been removed in an attempt to isolate the location of his many wounds, but more significantly, that medics had pronounced him dead shortly afterward, toe-tagged him and placed him in a body bag.  The experience of ‘falling off a pile of logs’ was, in fact, the result of unconscious movement on his part causing him to roll from a group of KIAs to which he had been relegated.  It was this movement that saved his life, since it was then realized that he was still alive. 

Colone was immediately medevaced to the aid station at LZ Betty, from there on to the Black Horse Hospital at Nha Trang, from there to Japan and eventually back to the United States, where he spent two years in the hospital.

“During my recovery, the army offered training in various fields, and being a car-crazy kid from Pinckney, I chose automobile sales.”

Proving the spunk and ambition which has served him to this day, he used that training to open John Colone Chrysler Plymouth in his hometown of Pinckney, which he owned and operated for 24 years.  Nonetheless, he says, despite his considerable successes in civilian life, “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the effect the war has had on my life…”

“Every Vietnam vet has been changed by that experience, every single man and woman has been molded by that war into something different than they were before they went overseas.  Some for the good, some for the bad.  As the Head of the Livingston County Veteran Board, I see vets with various struggles and difficulties—problems that I might have formerly reacted to by saying, ‘Pull yourself together’ but don’t anymore; re-establishing themselves in society has been very rough on some Vietnam vets—I talk to them all the time.  In their minds, they’re still over there.”

He continues: “For me, though it may sound hard to believe, Vietnam was a wonderful experience; I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Colone refers back to the vision of the benevolent woman in the white coat with the medallion that he saw while unconscious after the firefight in Phan Thiet.  When his eldest daughter Laura graduated from medical school, she sent him a photograph of herself in her white coat, with a brand new stethoscope around her neck.

“I’m not particularly religious,” says Colone.  “I’m spiritual.  But when I looked at that photograph, I went down on the floor and wept.  Laura, my daughter, who had not even been born yet—that’s who I saw looking over me, at a time when I’d already been pronounced dead.  She was the woman in my vision, and she told me, ‘Not yet…’


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