If anyone ever epitomized being a warrior, it was Mike Kiley.
To those who knew him well, he at first seemed to be a cheerful
and friendly, yet somewhat reserved, Californian, and indeed,
he was that. However, when the going got tough, Mikes toughness
took over and would always serve as a model for all. This was
evident in his youth, during his cadet days, in Ranger School,
and during his short but illustrious army career.
Mike embodied the ideals of decency, integrity, and professionalism.
As a human being, he was an example for mankind. As a soldier,
he possessed the sacred fire Napoleon believed so
important in his officers.
Mikes tactical officer at West Point referred to him
as a young Patton; his company commander during his
first Vietnam tour called him the bravest man in action
he had ever seen; his first platoon sergeant, who worked
for him in Korea, said Mike was the best officer he had
ever worked for; his platoon sergeant in Vietnam (first
tour) cited him as an unusually skilled infantry officer
to whom he always looked for advice, especially when dealing
with the lower enlisted. Mikes brother Kevin says
he was undoubtedly the most honest person I ever met. He
believed in telling the truth no matter what the consequences.
He was the ideal big brother teacher, friend and
mentor. Growing up, Kevin had several learning experiences
with Mike about doing whats right.
West Point classmate Richard Carr also had such an encounter,
as he recalls:
About midway through our first-class year, I had my
wisdom teeth removed. As part of the healing process, I was called
back to the hospital for a check by the surgeon. The appointment
ended midway through my first period military history class,
and I thought, Why not go back to my room and sleep? I
was authorized to be at the dentist surely no one is going
to question me beyond the appointment.
Somewhat later in the day came a knock at the door of
my room. It was Mike Kiley. He was the section leader of my military
history class. Were you authorized to be absent from history
class? My response: I had an appointment with my
dental surgeon concerning my recently extracted wisdom teeth.
(Im off the hook, right? Wrong!) Did the appointment
last the whole period? Why did anyone have to be so fastidious
with their duties?
I subsequently spent considerable time on the area contemplating
the concept of duty. Mike Kiley had a complete dedication to
do what was right. Mike had already had the opportunity
to walk the area for a total of five hours. Out of curiosity,
he and a buddy once got into some trouble to see what it was
like. They did not enjoy it and regretted the experience.
From an early age, Mike showed exemplary dedication and responsibility.
His mother, Eileen, recounts the following episodes:
Michael was about three and a half when he and I took a train
to Seattle to meet his dad (Francis Marion Kiley, Captain, U.S.
Naval Reserve, served in both World Wars and was returning home
after being the captain of the USS Spica in the Pacific during
World War II). His ship was docked there and little Michael decided
he would be a sailor after he boarded and met all the sailors.
When we arrived home he insisted on a sailor outfit, so he and
his younger brother (John Patrick, a marine colonel at the time
of this writing, served as a rifle company commander in Vietnam
in 1968-1969 and also served on the First marine Expeditionary
Force staff during Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of
Kuwait.) became sailors.
They had the complete outfit
cap, shoes, etc., and wore them everywhere. Later, they
became soldiers, and even carried wooden rifles.
Michael was in kindergarten and the war was over, so
he became a cowboy. His dad made sure he and his brother had
the full regalia, hat, boots, leather chaps, ropes, etc., and
he would take them, dressed so, with a playmate to a cowboy movie
He was in first grade when he came home one day and
told me I had to visit his teacher. He was in trouble. On Monday
I met his teacher and she had forgotten what it was all about.
Then she said, Oh, I had to pretend I would punish him
but I was so glad he hit the other boy in the nose. He really
Once when the paperboy came to collect his money Michael
decided he wanted to be a paperboy. When we moved to Long Beach
he was offered a job delivering papers. We thought he was too
young but his dad said, If you take the job you have to
stay with it, and he did for several years. It was good
training and he never shirked anything he undertook.
Kevin (Kevin Francis, USMA 76, a major in the
U.S. Marine Corps reserve at the time of this writing, served
as fire direction officer in the Tenth Marine Regiment during
the Persian Gulf Conflict. His was one of the first units into
occupied Kuwait, arriving the day before the allied invasion.)
was born when Michael was eleven years old and Patrick ten. The
two of them and Anne Litschi, who was Michaels age, were
the godparents. Michael took this very seriously. He always looked
after Kevin and, as Kevin grew older, he would advise him. Theirs
was a good relationship. On Fathers Day when Michael was
in Korea, after his father had died, Kevin asked me if it would
be all right to send Mike a Fathers Day card. When Michaels
things were returned to me the card was there with his other
mementoes. I imagine they were the youngest godparents ever.
When Michael was sixteen his father, who was port captain
for Mobil Oil on the West Coast, put his aboard one of the tankers
that sailed from Long Beach to Seattle. He learned to love the
sea and told me that after the army he thought he would work
for his captains license. He would go to sea every summer
and once even during Christmas vacation.
"Michael was a great dancer and played the piano. After
graduating from St. Anthony's High School in Long Beach he attended
Loyola University in Los Angeles for a year. He told me later
that it was the best year of his life. We all enjoyed having
him home on weekends and every Wednesday he would visit his grandmother.
It was the highlight of her week and they always had been close
to each other. Her son, my brother, had dies aboard the Pan American
Clipper that exploded in the South Seas and he filled that void
for her. Mike was very like my brother in a number of ways."
Kevin remembers the following incident during Mike's year
"He was joining a fraternity and among the rites of initiation
the freshmen had to go down to Main Street in Los Angeles and
'procure' a G-string from one of the establishments that featured
strippers. He was not too thrilled to go down there (nor was
our mother about him going)--then, as now, it was quite unsavory--so,
our mom took out her sewing basket and made him one out of lace
and powdered it to look somewhat worn. When he brought the 'trophy'
in to the fraternity the frat brothers were shocked and amazed.
It seems they wouldn't go downtown either!"
Mike taught me many things during our time together. Besides
self-defense, survival techniques, marksmanship, horseback riding,
patriotism, and love of country, he instilled in me a love for
and interest in military history and building and collecting
"We frequently had 'wars' with our model soldiers and
equipment which proved to be lessons in tactics for me. One evening
we were setting up for a contest and he explained a very flexible
tactical formation to me and then proceeded to beat the pants
off me, as usual. Later, when my interest in Napolean was blossoming,
I realized Mike had shown me the Emperor's Battalion Carre (Battalion
Square) from the Jena Campaign. Mike is still with me in a way,
for now I have his collection of soldiers and models, which,
joined with mine, numbers over 5,000 pieces.
"In many ways he was a very private person and never
mentioned some things. When our dad died while Mike was a yearling
at West Point, he had a hard time. He didn't come home for the
funeral, as my mom urged him not to. So, he stayed at school
but didn't tell anyone. My mom received a call from Mike's TAC
sometime later asking what was wrong. She explained the situation,
as Mike had kept it to himself. The TAC explained that all Mike
had to do was let him know and he would take care of it.
"After our dad died, Mike took over as head of the household.
Even though he was away most of the year, he always came home
for leave and we looked forward to his arrival. Mike's homecomings
were always a major event. Even in the middle of the night I
would get up to see him. He was always glad to see me and spent
most of his leave with me.
"One time while on leave before his first assignment
in Korea we were riding on a streetcar in San Francisco. Two
malevolent characters ahead of us paid their bill with a ten
and said they gave the conductor a twenty. Mike quickly responded
that, no, it was a ten, and then proceeded to stare the two down.
"Another time, in a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano,
Mike went over to a rude, very loud and abusive, foul mouthed
customer and asked him to be quiet or step outside. The customer
became very quiet and as we finished our meal the waitress came
over and thanked Mike."
Upon graduation on 3 June 1964 Mike was commissioned in the
Ammor. That August he was a member of the first "non-volunteer"
Ranger class. Mike Moran recalls those times:
"Mike was a cheerleader for our Ranger class and always
kept our spirits up. He was a natural leader who never complained
and always gave 110 percent. He also possessed the ultimate asset,
a large, old, brown DeSoto, which we would pile into to eat our
fill at the Black Angus doing our infrequent breaks in training.
I remember Mike as a kind young man and try to imagine him at
our age now. I can't do that. To me, he will always be the twenty-three-year-old
lieutenant who was a true friend and an outstanding officer.
He typified our youth, dreams and idealism. I miss him."
Mike volunteered to go to Korea for his first assignment.
Shortly before leaving there he was talking with Bruce Foster
who said that after West Point, Airborne and Ranger Schools,
plus the "short tour," he had a strong desire to get
back to "the World." In late 1965, the growing war
in Vietnam was beginning to draw attention and had just claimed
the Class of '64's first two casualties there, David
Ugland and Clair Thurston.
As a professional soldier, Mike felt compelled to be where the
action was. Realizing that it was an infantryman's war, he transferred
to the infantry and volunteered for Vietnam where he won a Bronze
Star with Valor and an Air Medal (along with several Vietnamese
medals) while serving with the First Cavalry Division. He was
then assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, but after only seven
months he again volunteered for Vietnam.
Mike was assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade in teh Central
Highlands, where a series of border battles with the North Vietnamese
Army was being fought. In October 1967 he assumed command of
Company A, Second Battalion, 503d Infantry, a unit of veteran
infantrymen, which was involved in some of the most vicious combat
of the Vietnam War. In a short period of time, Mike was to earn
four Silver Stars, the first one being for personally going outside
the perimeter, under intense enemy fire, to rescue one of his
wounded soldiers. He led by personal example and professional
skill throughout his brief tenure as a combat commander.
His last few days typify his life of courage, honor, dedication
to duty, and love of his fellow man. Two days before Mike was
killed, during fierce combat near Dac To, he was wounded by a
morter fragment through his knee. He refused to be evacuated,
however, and stayed with his company. He did order his executive
officer (XO) to the rear, as he had been wounded in the hand
and it had become infected. The XO would return several days
later to help reorganize the company (twenty-eight survivors
On 19 November the battalion was committed to assault NVA
positions on Hill 875 and began moving up the hill in classic
two-up, one-back formation. D Company was on the left, C Company,
under Captain Hal Kaufman
(Mike's classmate and good friend), was on the right, and A Company
brought up the rear. Before long the lead companies came under
intense enemy fire, so Mike had his unit set up rear security
and prepare a landing zone to evacuate the wounded. Through a
series of tunnels and trails, the NVA was able to surround the
three companies with superior force. Captain Mike Kiley had just
been hit again by mortar shrapnel in the back and was having
the wound dressed when he and his command group were overwhelmed
and all were killed.
Numerous books have since been written describing what became
known as the Battle of Dak To. Mike has figured prominently in
seven of them, particularly The Long Gray Line and Dak
To. Many good men died in that campaign and Mike Kiley was
among the best of them, if not the best.
His loss has been deeply felt by his family, classmates and
fellow soldiers. Nevertheless, we all recognize that he went
to West Point to serve his country as a professional soldier.
He did so with distinction and his life was, and continues to
be, an example for us all.
~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John