West Point Societies WP-ORG Services WP-ORG Home West Point Parents USMA Class Year Groups Greater West Point Family and Friends About WP-ORG

25405 Kiley, Michael J.
January 28, 1941 - November 19, 1967


Michael J. Kiley   

View Ward Entry

Personal Eulogy

John Ward's Directory Entry

Airborne, ranger, and bachelor are all Mike’s goals in life. Woe be to the girl that catches Mike. She will have to be a hunter, a handball and a tennis player. Never in the rack when there was an open handball court, Mike was an avid handball fan. Other free time was spent shooting at and missing grouse.

~ USMA 1964 Howitzer

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, Mike’s 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.

Mike’s 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.” Mike’s 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 what’s 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.’ (I’m 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 every Sunday.

“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 deserved it.’

“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 Michael’s 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 Michael’s 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 captain’s 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 at Loyola:

"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!"

Kevin continues:

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 military models.

"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 of 101).

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 Murray

14 August 1999

From left to right are John Knutzen '64, Dwayne Lee '64, Steve Perryman '64, Larry Strickland '64,
Eileen Kiley (Mike’s mother), Marsha & Ken De Gon '64, Helen & Ian Carter '64, Judy & Jim McNulty '64,
and Helene & Andy Dykes '64.

Members of the class living in Southern California held a memorial service for Mike Kiley and Bill Seely on August 14th 1999, at Mike’s gravesite in All Souls Cemetery, Long Beach, CA.

Both Mike and Bill are fondly remembered by many of the class. Andy read excerpts of email messages and eulogy postings sent to him for the visit. Ken De Gon spoke eloquently of his friendship with Mike, while Ian Carter related the good times he had with Bill at KCET. We ended the visit with The Corps and adjourned for lunch, where all the messages and John Ward’s class directory were passed around for all to read.

All agreed that the class memorial services help to put our lives into perspective and reflect the very real spirit of the Long Gray Line.


 Email Feedback FEEDBACK 


Return Home