Letter From December 2006 Vietnam Magazine

America loses another of its multiple-war heroes

For all too many people today, Vietnam remains the most antiheroic of American wars. Following this logic, then, it would almost go without saying that the Vietnam War produced no real American heroes, or at least none that can compare with previous so-called “good wars.” This is all complete nonsense, of course. The Vietnam War produced more than its share of heroes who can stand with the greatest of the previous wars and, in some cases, were actually heroes in those earlier wars. We lost one of those giants on April 2, 2006.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Novosel, one of the greatest of the Dustoff pilots, started his military career at age 19 as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Forces. In 1942 he earned his wings and a commission. He first flew Consolidated B-24s on training missions in the States, and then Boeing B-29s in combat in the Pacific. During the Japanese surrender ceremony on the deck of USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Novosel was the command pilot of a B-29 in a 462-ship flyover. Immediately after the war, he commanded the 99th Bombardment Squadron in the Pacific.

Novosel left active duty in 1949, but he remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. As the Vietnam War heated up in the 1960s, Novosel volunteered to return to active duty, but the Air Force thought he was too old to fly. The Army, however, desperately needed helicopter pilots. Novosel accepted a downgrade to warrant officer, and was soon flying in combat again. He served two tours in Vietnam as a Dustoff pilot, flying 2,543 missions and rescuing some 5,600 evacuees.

On October 21, 1969, Novosel earned the Medal of Honor for rescuing 29 wounded ARVN soldiers pinned down by a large enemy force. Under withering fire, he completed 15 extractions without air cover. On the last extraction, he himself was wounded and temporarily lost control of his aircraft but managed to recover and bring his ship home. The man the Air Force thought too old to fly was 47.

Novosel flew with the 82nd Medical Detachment in Kien Tuong Province. His son, Michael J. Novosel Jr., was also a pilot in the same outfit—at the same time. According to U.S. military policy, that sort of thing is not supposed to happen, but it did. The younger Novosel himself flew 1,736 missions and rescued some 2,500 evacuees.

After Vietnam, Novosel served as chief pilot of the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. By 1985 he was the last World War II pilot still on military flight status. In all, he totaled 12,400 hours as a military pilot, including 2,038 in combat. Even in his final days at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Mike Novosel continued to serve his country, as he circulated through the wards to comfort and encourage the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mike Novosel was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Richard Cody said of him, “Sometimes the soldiering defines the man; in Mike’s case, the character of the man defined what it means to be a soldier.”

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