Carl Eifler, OSS officer, dies at 95

April 20, 2002|By Dennis McLellan | Dennis McLellan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Carl F. Eifler, who commanded the first Office of Strategic Services covert operations unit during World War II and was dubbed "the deadliest colonel" for his daring exploits and planning of operations behind enemy lines, has died. He was 95.

Mr. Eifler died April 8 of natural causes in a medical rehabilitation center in Salinas, Calif.

According to his biographer, he devised top-secret plans (that were later canceled) to assassinate Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek and to kidnap Adolf Hitler's top atomic scientist.

He was considered fearless.

He thought nothing of grabbing a deadly 10-foot king cobra by the tail and beheading it with a knife. He'd often challenge his men to "hit me in the stomach as hard as you can," and wouldn't flinch when they gave him their best shot.

"That was just him," said Tom Moon of Orange, Calif., who served as an OSS agent under Mr. Eifler in Burma and India and later wrote a biography of him. "Somebody told me they watched him one night digging a bullet out of his leg with a spoon handle."

The Office of Strategic Services, which was under the direction of Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan, was the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"I broke every law of God and man, but I never did anything for personal gain," Mr. Eifler said at an Association of Former Intelligence Officers convention in San Diego in 1983. "I was out to win a war for my country, and you can't fight a lawful war. I think the CIA today has gotten a lot of bad publicity. Where do you want them to get information? From churches?"

Mr. Eifler, who had joined the Army Reserve around 1930, went on active duty in early 1941 and was an infantry officer stationed in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

He was put in command of a detention camp on Sand Island in Honolulu, but a month later was ordered to report to the Coordinator of Information in Washington. That agency later became the OSS.

In June 1942, Mr. Eifler and his men headed to Burma. For the next two years, he operated on direct orders from Washington, in the China-Burma-India theater of operations.

Mr. Eifler lived a charmed life during most of the war, surviving the crashes of two light planes behind enemy lines that forced him to walk out of the jungle alone.

He suffered head injuries that required 18 months of hospitalization after the war and thereafter plagued him with headaches and occasional memory lapses.

In 1943, OSS Director Donovan recruited Mr. Eifler to capture Werner Heisenberg, the Nazis' leading atomic physicist.

The plan Mr. Eifler devised entailed having him enter Germany, capture Heisenberg and spirit him out of the country through Switzerland and into a U.S. Army bomber, which would drop the two men to a waiting submarine. Mr. Moon said the plan was aborted by Mr. Donovan after the Americans successfully developed the atomic bomb.

In the early 1960s, he earned a doctorate in psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology and went to work for Monterey County, Calif., as a psychologist. He retired in the early 1980s.

Mr. Eifler's first wife, Lou, died in 1961. His second wife, Margaret, died in 1998. He is survived by a stepson, Byron Hisey; and a sister, Hilda Coleman.

Dennis McLellan is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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