The Tom Eagles Story: Vietnam War Hero


The Tom Eagles Story: Vietnam War Hero



Buffalo born Tom Eagles dropped out of high school and became a Catholic Augustinian monk in 1961. He had been a victim of bullying and found refuge in the monastery according to his son Kevin. The Brothers of Mercy assigned Tom to a church in Saigon, Vietnam as a missionary. It was during the early years of the war.

Witnessing the ravages of war in Vietnam Tom decided to leave the Brothers of Mercy and join the Navy as a hospital corpsman (medic). He served three tours of duty beginning in 1966. He flew 221 combat missions with Marines and treated their wounds on the front lines of battle. Eagles was wounded twice.

While in Vietnam Tom also tended to Vietnamese civilians whose villages had come under attack.

During the war he married Karin Tran, a Vietnamese native. They had two sons. On April 29, 1975 Eagles and his family were among the last Americans to be evacuated from the war-torn country. They were airlifted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy.

After the war, Tom managed to bring eighteen of Karin’s nineteen family members to the United States. He served in the Navy until 1993 and developed emergency medical equipment still carried in Marine Corps first aid kits.

Tom Eagles passed away in 2016 at the age of 71. His family says he had suffered from exposure to the deadly herbicide Agent Orange, used by the United States to clear jungle areas where the enemy in Vietnam was hidden. At the time of his death he was the most decorated enlisted man in the Navy. He medals include The Legion of Merit, a lifetime career award for distinguished service.

One retired Marine said of “Doc” Eagles, “We have lost a true American hero...God now has one of the best care givers in the world. A true Lifesaver then and Caregiver always.”

The Navy has an award in Eagle’s name given to a corpsman who distinguishes himself in combat.

Eagles was once quoted as saying, “I don’t really know how many Marines and sailors I helped save. I do remember everyone one I lost.”


1979 - 1980s


Rich Newberg Reports Collection


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Buffalo native Tom Eagles went from being Catholic Augustinian monk after high school to one of the Navy's most decorated hospital corpsman.

After the Brothers of Mercy sent Tom to Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, Eagles enlisted in the Navy as a hospital corpsman or medic. He tended to wounded Marines on the frontlines of battle and to Vietnamese civilians. Whose villages had come under attack.

Tom Eagles flew 221 combat missions and was wounded twice.

I got shot down three times we'd like, drag people aboard. You get overwhelmed.

Eagles had married Vietnam native Karen Tran. They raised two boys. Eagles began a 19 to freedom campaign to bring his wife's family from Vietnam to the United States.

Well, it looks like this is the year that the communists are letting everybody out They said so in the press , the foreign minister has said letting 500,000 out.

What's the problem? Now?

The problem is that I don't have enough money for $16,500 So we've put together a group of people are asking people to help us raise the 16,500 we've got about $3000 identified so far.

This may be a year of amnesty in communist Vietnam and Air France may have the ability to fly refugees out of the country. The question is now whether Thomas Eagles can muster the support in his own community get the money he needs, based on his track record under more difficult circumstances it'd appear the odds are with him.

He got a boost from the buffalo media and a lot of support from the community.

.... it was just one more time but it's just one more time that his country and home town stood behind Tom Eagles, a man helping Vietnamese people to rebuild their lives.

That may be in the country few hospital corpsman, but Tom Eagles was something special. He almost single handedly re-built a destroyed Vietnamese village using money he raised from people back home. Today the navy, state of New York, and friends and neighbors of Tom Eagles honored the man, Tom Eagles who's now waging a battle to bring his wife's family from communist Vietnam to the US.

This is Democracy in action, the people leading the ... We can all be proud of Doc Eagles and his determination in making this happen.

Eagles was then presented the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross by State Senator John Daly, who praised the Navy man for his compassion and courage. Eagles then spoke of freedom.

We've had a lot of long hard fights to get to this point today. And Karen and I our personal battle will be won when we get our family out.

Eagles pointed out Laotian families in the audience that had escaped to the US and also brought up the painful journey of the Laotian people and their struggle for survival.

As one spokesman put it today, People when aroused can move mountains. And in the age of looking out for number one. Some people indeed do care about their brothers.

Rich Newberg, News four at four, Lockport.

Tom Eagles took his plea for help in New York City today directly to the doorstep of a high ranking communist Vietnamese official at the United Nations. I accompanied Eagles along with Mike Barrett, a Lockport car dealer who has been instrumental in raising funds for the freedom crusade.

Eagles, who speaks Vietnamese overheard members of the staff communist Vietnamese mission saying American television cameras had never before been inside this office, since there are no formal relations between the two countries. A picture of Ho Chi Minh was the conversation piece as Eagles the Navy's most decorated Vietnam veteran nervously awaited the opportunity to ask the all important question; Would the secretary to the ambassador help process the emigration papers of Karen Eagles' family.

Mr. Liu said yes, he would send the papers to Hanoi. Through the United Nations the Vietnam family reunification program is now underway. Tom Eagles hopes this will mean the end of seven years of waiting.

These people accepted it... They could have said don't come don't see us except if they were to help us. I think we're supposed to end instead of tying up all the loose ends that we're trying to do today. And I'd say really optimistically today

The policies of the Reagan administration may very well decide whether or not Tom Eagles is successful in his mission. The premier of communist Vietnam Phạm Văn Đồng has already gone on record wanting to see the doors of emigration open. Whatever the case may be, News Four will be following the story very closely as we have for the past year and a half.

Rich Newburgh news four New York City.

Anxious eyes were trained on the airport walkway. Seconds before ... stepped into the arms of her sister, Karen Eagles.

They have not seen each other in 10 years. Since Karen left Vietnam with her navy husband Tom Eagles of Newphane.
And one of the biggest piece of all was meeting her 10 year old nephew for the first time.

He says he wants to come here so he can ride in a real car.

A widow said her journey here was a miracle. That it really came about about as a result of the fundraising efforts of Tom Eagles and friend Mike Barrett, and many church and community groups in western New York

For four years, Tom Eagles' appealed to Western New Yorkers for help bringing his wife's family to freedom. He raised $24,000 for plane tickets and was honored by naval admiral ... In 1980 we joined Eagles as he visited the Vietnam Mission to the United Nations. Appealing to the communists to let Karen's family come to the United States.

From the time Eagles was a navy hospital corpsman building schools and hospitals in Vietnam during the war, through his years of appealing for help to his western New York neighbors, Eagles aspired to bring a little peace to a troubled people. There are 15 family members still trapped in Ho Chi Minh City including Karen's father. Eagle says his crusade will continue. Let's keep working for the other 15, you know get the rest get them out. You know we'll just keep trying. We haven't given up.

For now there's the mission of getting Mrs. Tran and her son settled, and catching up on 10 years of family history.

Rich Newberg , News Four, Buffalo.

Freedom tonight for 11 members of a Vietnamese family brought to Western New York after an eight year crusade on their behalf. Our Rich Newberg has been on the story from the beginning. Rich?

Oh it's a great night, Jackie. In fact, there wasn't a dry eye at the airport tonight when Taryn Eagles family got off the plane. Thanks to the efforts husband Tom and some generous Western New Yorkers, a family has been reunited.

After 13 long years away from her family, Karen Eagles greeted her five brothers and sisters, five nieces and nephews and father as they stepped off the plane

Her family had been pro American during the war. Perhaps making immigration that much tougher. Her father who suffered a stroke this year had trouble finding medical help in Vietnam. They look what do they say? What do they say?

They call me Oh, sister, I'm glad to see you again.

What did you say?

I said me, too!

We got him here. Thank you everybody.

Tom Eagles started his crusade to free his wife's family almost eight years ago. In 1980. He met face to face with Communist officials at the Vietnam mission in New York. Eagles was the most decorated enlisted Navy man in Vietnam. He helped build schools and hospitals during the war. With the help of Western New York churches and businesses. Eagles raised more than $20,000 to pay for air tickets and expenses for his wife's family.

When we started this a long time ago, everything felt like it was in reach and then delays and delays and then it seemed impossible. And up until today. We've all been afraid that the last minute they were going to say they weren't coming and see them here. Finally, it's just beautiful
Tom Eagles rented a recreational vehicle for the occasion so he could transport his wife's family in comfort and he went out and bought 50 pounds of rice. It will be a little crowded in the Eagles household for a while but we'll manage says Tom.

Tom was transferred to Washington and will bring the whole family to his home in Fredericksburg, Virginia after some heavy partying in western New York, in Newphane where he's from.

Tom Eagles passed away in 2016. He successfully had arranged for all 19 of his wife's family members to make it to the United States. Only one chose to stay in Vietnam.

Eagles once said of his years in service, I don't really know how many Marines and Sailors I helped save. I do remember every one I lost. He would get emotional when sharing his feelings with Navy hospital corpsman in training. David Weinstein was one of

The Marines that he couldn't save the Marines that died in his arms. He said that if you're going to be a combat corpsman, and we don't have the passion or compassion then don't become a corpsman because because it's all about sacrificing yourself. For the Marines or others. Not yourself.

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