Earl George Challans

US Army

SERVED: 2 Years

Location: Vietnam

Memory from a Loved One: 

Earl Challans, my husband of 50+ years, was born 1945 in Decatur, IL. He volunteered for the draft in 1966, and he asked to be sent to Vietnam. He was honorably discharged in 1968, with the rank of E-5. His army MOS was a Forward Observer (FO).

He arrived in Vietnam shortly before the TET offensive. At the time, the average lifespan of an FO in Vietnam was two weeks. Earl survived 10 ½ months. His fellow infantrymen; however, didn’t like him too much because he was able to win all of their money at poker. When he started playing the cook staff, though, and beating them as well, he won his friendship back with his buddies. He left Vietnam a rich man.

His most difficult memory, though, involved his track driver and a particular Search & Destroy mission. His unit was ordered to go out on a routine Search & Destroy mission. Standard Army policy was that, if you had two weeks or less time left in Vietnam, you were not to go out on these missions. For this particular mission, the commanding officer ordered a young man, aged 19, who had a wife and a son whom he’d never seen, to be the driver of the track that Earl manned. This young man had less than two weeks of duty left in Vietnam. Earl tried to get his driver relieved of his duty to no avail. On the way back from the mission, the commanding officer ordered this young man to return by the same route they left, which, also, was against army policy. It was very well known that the Viet Cong would follow the path of the departing unit and place IEDs along the way for the unit’s return in order to injure and/or kill as many Americans as possible.

The Commanding Officer was new to the unit and demanded the lead track stay in the same route to return to home base. Earl tried his best to get his driver not to follow the captain’s orders but the driver was concerned that, if he didn’t, he could be court martialed. So, he obeyed the Captain. In fact, the Captain walked up to the track and demanded his orders be followed. When the driver began to move his track, he hit an IED. The captain did not survive. Earl, who was sitting on the cupola outside the track which saved his life, was thrown 30 feet into the air, landing on his back several yards from the track. He raced back to the track and pulled the driver out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, this young man died in Earl’s arms. However, even though he suffered a serious back injury, Earl continued to help others in the convoy and brought several of them to safety. For his valiant efforts he was awarded the Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster for Valor, the Vietnam Bronze star with an oak leaf cluster, the National Service Medal and a Purple Heart for his injuries. One little side note – Earl was able to go on an Honor Flight to Washington, D. C. in 2018. It was a highlight of his service. One of the locations they visited was Arlington Cemetery. Because space is becoming critical, new criteria has been developed in order to be buried there. You must have a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart at minimum. Of the 67 people in that Honor Flight group, Earl was the only one who qualified.

Earl was proud of his country and proud of his duty. As a Forward Observer, on all of his Search and Destroy missions, he was always in the middle of the jungle even when they sprayed Agent Orange. For that, he paid dearly. He died on July 29th of this year and was laid to rest at Jefferson Barracks on August 7th. He was blessed to have many good friends and strong family ties. He was a man of great faith. He lived a good life.

We miss him.