Two Stories Intertwined: A Special Forces Officer And His Vietnamese Wife

Mike & Chan Eiland
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Mike Eiland was born in 1940 in Pasadena, California, and his future wife, Chan, was born in 1950 in Hanoi. Mike’s father worked as a bookkeeper and accountant for the Air Force, and although the family lived near different bases, he spent much of his childhood in California. Chan’s grandfather was a Chinese Officer, and he arranged for his son to marry the daughter of a wealthy Vietnamese family (Chan’s mom). In 1954, when Vietnam was partitioned, Chan and her family flew south on an American plane and began a new life in the Republic of Vietnam. Mike was first introduced to the idea of West Point after first seeing the academy from a passing train in the 1940s. Later, in 1952, a National Geographic special on West Point again piqued his interest. R-Day was a blur, and Mike remembers meeting his roommates and interacting with the “Man in the Red Sash.” He ran track, and recalls how Coach Carlton Crowell could be both demanding and caring. Upon graduation, Mike branched Field Artillery, but soon transitioned to Special Forces. Chan grew up on a police housing compound in Saigon, where her father was a Police Officer. She remembers visiting an island where political prisoners were held and interacting with them. Mike’s first assignment was in Germany with the 35th and 11th Artillery, stationed at Dachau. His unit was equipped with 155mm and 280mm nuclear capable guns. He recalls a Displaced Persons camp for refugees from Eastern Europe and the artillery motor-pool being next to a crematorium. In 1965, Mike transitioned to Special Forces, completing 4 months of pre-mission training before deploying to Vietnam in March 1966. He was stationed at a new Special Forces Camp, Xom Cat, near Bien Hoa. Later his team moved to a camp at Hiap Hoa, near the Parrot’s Beak (that camp had been overrun in 1963). While stationed at remote camps, one or two members of the team remained in Saigon to procure needed supplies and to draw pay for the indigenous companies that made up the units the Special Forces teams led. Mike then joined MAC-V-SOG as part of a B-57 Detachment, conducting reconnaissance along the Cambodian border and collecting intelligence on North Vietnamese units moving along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After two years in Vietnam, he returned to Georgetown University to earn a Master’s Degree in economics. There he found it difficult to transition to the civilian world because he had not had an opportunity to decompress. In September 1968 he returned to Vietnam, where he joined the Joint Unconventional Task Force. He discusses Operation Daniel Boone, designed to find the Viet Cong Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN) Headquarters. A massive B-52 strike “only irritated them,” and resulted in high American casualties when bomb damage assessment teams sent in to survey the results were ambushed. Frustrated, Mike left SOG and tried to be an economic advisor for a CORDS team instead (he later returned to SOG). In 1970, while conducting business in a bank in Saigon, he met Chan, who was a teller at the bank, and the two developed a relationship. Courtship in a war zone was difficult, but they “dated” to the limits allowed based on cultural norms and military restrictions. Mike was due to transfer to Thailand, and the two made a deal that if they could not live without each other for three months, they would get married. On December 20, 1972, Mike and Chan Eiland were married in a traditional Vietnamese ceremony. A follow-up interview will be conducted to complete the record.

VIDEO DETAILS

conflicts Cold War
topics Army Athletics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie West Point History Military Techniques Military Family
interviewer David Siry
date 29 January 2022

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

name Mike & Chan Eiland
institution USMA
graduation year 1961
service Field Artillery / Special Forces
unit 35th Artillery; 11th Artillery; 5th Special Forces; MAC-V-SOG
specialty MAC-V-SOG
service dates 1961 1985
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