43 Years Ago Today

| October 2, 2012

Ground troops often grouse – IMO with fair justification – about their Aviation brethren and about how “soft” an aviator’s life is by comparison to their own. But there is one part of the aviation community I doubt you’ll ever hear a Soldier or Marine – or Airman or Sailor, for that matter – disparage.

That would be MEDEVAC pilots and crew – AKA “Dustoff” in the Army (I believe the USAF equivalent is Pedro; not sure about Navy or USMC).  These guys and gals do things – and take chances – that make one sometimes question their common sense if not their sanity.

It’s risky as hell. They don’t always make it back.

Michael J. Novosel was a Dustoff pilot.  He had a very unusual career; for more details, see here and here.  Short version:  he served in the Army Air Forces in World War II, flying some missions over Japan near the end of the war.  After the war, he reverted to the USAF Reserve.  He was recalled to serve again in Korea, then again reverted to USAF Reserve status.

When Vietnam began to heat up, Novosel again volunteered.  This time, however, the USAF said no.  He was too old, and too senior, for the USAF’s needs.

The Army, however, would let him return to active duty and fly – as a Warrant Officer.  So Lt Col Michael J. Novosel, USAFR, became CW2 Michael J. Novosel, US Army.

Novosel served a tour of duty in Vietnam.  He returned stateside, and was diagnosed with glaucoma.  He convinced the Army to keep him on active duty, and to let him return to flying status.

That turned out to be two of the best decisions the Army ever made.

Novosel was promoted to CW3.  He returned to Vietnam for a second tour.

Novosel was no naive youngster at the time. At the time of his second tour, he was literally old enough (47) to be a grandfather.  Indeed, Novosel and his son were both Dustoff pilots, and served together in Vietnam at the same time. They share a rather unique distinction: each rescued the other within the space of a week by performing an emergency combat evacuation after the other’s bird was disabled during a mission.

On October 2, 1969, CW3 Michael J. Novosel, US Army, was a again flying Dustoff. On that day he performed acts of heroism for which he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Citation for his Medal of Honor tells the story succinctly, but well.  More details can be found here, in the section entitled  “A Second Medal of Honor”, and in the first two links above.

Flying into a “hot” LZ once to pick up wounded, even once, takes Major-League guts. You know a priori that you’re going to take fire coming and going – and that you’re going to have to stay on the ground or at a low hover, completely exposed, long enough to take on wounded. Coming and going, you’ve got a good chance to get hit. On the ground or hovering, you’re a sitting duck.  And given the size of a UH-1 (the airframe used for Dustoff in 1969), you’re a damned large sitting duck – which burns like hell if it’s hit in a critical spot and catches fire.

To do that fifteen times during the same engagement, bringing out wounded each time, until you’re hit yourself and damn near end up among the dead . . . well, in my book that goes way beyond gutsy. In my book that’s truly “above and beyond the call of duty.”

CW4 Novosel retired in 1985.  At the time, he was the last military aviator from  World War II still on active flying status, and had accumulated 12,400 total flying hours (2,000+ in combat).   A street at Fort Rucker, Alabama (the home of Army Aviation) is named in his honor. This is particularly apropos, as Novosel chose to live out his later years in Enterprise, Alabama – just a few miles away.

Michael J. Novosel – Army officer and aviator extraordinaire, Dustoff pilot, and Medal of Honor recipient – passed away on April 2, 2006. May he rest in peace.

Thank you, my late elder brother in arms. Both for what you did, and for the example you were.

— — —

A personal postscript:  for years after Novosel had retired, I had friends and family in the Fort Rucker area, and visited I them once or twice a year.  Looking up Novosel and going over to Enterprise to  meet  him was something on my “to do” list.  The pace of life kept pushing the visit down the list, and I just never got around to doing that.  Now it won’t happen – in this life, anyway.   That’s something I’ll always regret.

If you have the opportunity, make it a point to meet one of the few surviving Medal of Honor recipients – if for no other reason than to say, “Thank you.”


Author’s Note: the original version of this article indicated that CW4 Novosel had received a second commission and retired as a Colonel.  This was incorrect.  Subsequent research on my part indicates that Novosel remained a CW4 until his retirement in 1985, and was almost certainly retired at his highest rank held (Lt Col).  I have seen references to “Colonel Novosel” in various documents.  However, I have been unable to yet determine if he also received an honorary promotion to Colonel on or after his retirement.

My apologies for the error.

Category: Real Soldiers

Comments (22)

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  1. Detn8r says:

    Hondo – excellent post on a true Hero. I do believe I would have loved to have met this man myself.

  2. Jumpmaster says:

    COL Novocel truly deserved his MOH, I’m glad that he survived to receive it. I am also reminded of all of the World War II American bomber crews that had to fly straight and level on their daylight bombing runs while flak burst all around them and German fighter planes strafed them. Tens of thousands of them did not return.

  3. Biermann says:

    Excellent post Hondo, thanks for sharing a very important part of our proud military history.

  4. Old Tanker says:

    Balls, Brass, 2ea. Size XXXL…

  5. ROS says:

    Novosel, with an ‘s’.

    One of the greatest men I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. His signed copy of Dustoff Six is one of my prized possessions.

  6. Hondo says:

    Dear Lord – I cannot believe I did that.

    Thanks, ROS. Fixed.

  7. ROS says:

    😀 I figured you’d kick yourself when you realized.

  8. HM2 FMF-SW Ret says:

    Excellent post Hondo. BZ to Col. Novosel may he rest in peace.

  9. NHSparky says:

    I can’t imagine having the balls and concentration to fly into a hot LZ once as a passenger. To do it that many times as a pilot, knowing what’s coming at you…

    So humbled, and so honored to be one of his brothers in arms.

  10. ROS says:

    The part that has always endeared him to me most is that he wasn’t just a badass himself, he passed that gene on to his son. On the few occasions that I spoke with him, you’d never guess he’d done and seen what he had. He was a compact man who spoke humbly and was rather quiet.

    I’d say that after the days of my kids’ births and one other day, the days that I met Mike Novosel, Joe Marm, and Mike Durant were the greatest days of my life. You’re absolutely right, Hondo, that we should appreciate them while we can.

  11. Virtual Insanity says:

    I met Mike Novosel several times; my wife and I sat next to him at a formal one year. He wouldn’t really tell her how he earned “the Medal,” other than to say he forced his crew to do stupid things (his words) over and over again. He was funny and engaging all night.

    I told her the story of his Medal. First time I ever saw my wife speechless :-).

    God bless him, he also spent the night looking at my wife’s cleavage.

  12. 68W58 says:

    I read his book some years ago and he described how they had to navigate to an LZ by following a radio beacon at a certain heading and then turning at a given angle after so long. The only way they could find the LZ in the gloom was that the unit on the ground shined a flashlight up at them and they headed down to it. They touch down and suddenly there is a flash of lightning and they see trees a hundred feet tall all around them. Even when there was no enemy action, their mission was incredibly difficulty.

  13. Nik says:

    The physics of it has me baffled?

    With balls of brass the size this guy had, how did the UH-1 get in the air?

    Bonus question: Where on earth could they find room to put the wounded?

  14. 1stCavRVN11B says:

    Novosel is a real hero. Chopper pilots in general are definitely my heros. As a grunt, I was honored and umbled to recently be invited to the VHPA reunion in New Orleans by a two tour VN Scout pilot who had pulled some of us out of a very hairy situation. He’s never told me of any of his awards but one of his copilots did inform me that he had 99 Air Medals. What an honor to to be in the company of so many of those brave men.

  15. Grant says:

    Mike was a good friend of mine and he never talked about how he won the award as far as I know. He was one of our command pilots at USAPT for the 3 years I was there. He was so good we never had to give him corrections to get over the correct exit spot to land in the LZ. RIP Michael.

  16. Hondo says:

    Nik: his Huey had a beefed-up airframe and a special engine to deal with the extra weight of his “package”.

    No word on whether the same phrase was uttered here afterwards as was said to Lt Col Joe Jackson about 18 months earlier. But IMO it’s apropos here too. (smile)


  17. fm2176 says:

    I had the honor of working as the cordon NCOIC at CW4 Novosel’s funeral. Our Full Honors team did its stuff, while I was tasked with redirecting visitors from the Tomb and Amphitheater away from the proceedings. Quite a crowd gathered at the top of Section 7A to watch the funeral from afar.

  18. cacti35 says:

    The Army helicopter pilots were amazing in the Vietnam war. We saw a lot of true heroes in action. Hand salute to all of them!

  19. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    Rest In Peace Sir, we who remain will miss your presence. Hondo, thank you for this article. I wish the MSM would report more of these stories, but I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

  20. El Marco says:

    MEDEVAC and A-10 pilots should be issued a wheelbarrow to carry their b@lls.

  21. OWB says:

    Thank you, COL Novosel, and all your comrades. You brought a lot of friends home to us.

    Had a somewhat similar experience as some of you are describing. My first supervisor at a full-time real job was a B-17 pilot during WWII. He taught me so much about honor and all that stuff, or perhaps I should say that he reinforced what I had been trained by my career Army father.

    He absolutely did NOT ever talk about it. I was totally unaware, but our supervisor had noticed me getting tight jawed a time or three over something fairly inconsequential. That fine fellow called me into his office one day and asked me if I had any idea of my supervosor’s background and proceeded to tell me. I appreciated that little discussion so much. And it had the desired effect. I displayed so much respect for my supervisor from then on that we actually became good friends. And talked about flying – to a point.

    He never admitted that he knew that I knew. Nor did I. It was just understood. The respect that he showed me by allowing me into that world is still cherished. As are the life lessons.

  22. Mr. Blue says:

    Wow, just wow.