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Michael Novosel, 83; Vietnam Medevac Pilot Earned Medal of Honor

April 08, 2006|Adam Bernstein | Washington Post

Michael Novosel, an Army medical evacuation pilot who received the Medal of Honor for leading a daring Vietnam War rescue mission, died April 2 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Novosel, 83, had colon cancer.

Novosel, a veteran of two earlier wars, was 47 and recently diagnosed with glaucoma at the time of the rescue. The former commercial pilot once said he had returned to active duty as a patriotic response to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

Assuming he would train pilots, he instead was sent to Vietnam. He held the rank of chief warrant officer when he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest recognition for valor. At the time, he was serving in the 82nd Medical Detachment in Kien Tuong Province.

On Oct. 2, 1969, he commanded his Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter to a heavily guarded enemy training area to rescue wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. Without a U.S. gunship to cover him, he searched close to the tall elephant grass teeming with enemy snipers to find the wounded Allied soldiers.

"Since all communications with the beleaguered troops had been lost, he repeatedly circled the battle area, flying at low level under continuous heavy fire, to attract the attention of the scattered friendly troops," his Medal of Honor citation said. "This display of courage visibly raised their morale, as they recognized this as a signal to assemble for evacuation."

Forced to leave the area by the ferocity of the enemy fire, he returned repeatedly to find the injured soldiers.

Although he briefly lost control of the chopper, he was able to maneuver to safety. Himself wounded in the right leg and hand, he was credited with saving 29 lives that day.

President Nixon presented Novosel with the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony June 15, 1971.

Michael J. Novosel -- the initial stood for nothing -- was born in Etna, Pa., on Sept. 3, 1922. His parents had emigrated from what is now Croatia, and his father ran a shoemaking business.

At 19, Novosel enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Forces. During World War II, he was captain of a B-29 bomber in the Pacific.

In the Korean War, he served in a noncombatant role in the Air Force and rose to lieutenant colonel in the reserve. He also flew in the early 1960s for the now-defunct Southern Airways, on the New Orleans to Memphis run, before joining the Army's Special Forces aviation section at Ft. Bragg, N.C. The Air Force, trying to cut its senior grades, had said he was too old.

After his first tour of duty in Vietnam, a medical examination found that he had glaucoma. A friend in the Army Medical Service Corps got him a waiver and treatment, and Novosel went on to serve a second tour of duty and received the Medal of Honor.

Survivors include four children, a brother, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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