In 1970, CW4 Michael Novosel, MOH was in his second tour, flying rescue missions in Tra Vinh, Vietnam when he picked up a distress call. Another medevac crew had taken hits and was going down.
To Novosel, a former WW-II bomber pilot with literally thousands of rescue missions to his credit in Vietnam, this was no ordinary rescue. The pilot of the other ship was his son, Mike Novosel, Jr. A week after the successful rescue, Mike Jr returned the favor by rescuing his father after he’d been shot down.
Between them, Mike and Mike Jr. rescued nearly 9,000 soldiers and civilians during the Vietnam War. Mike Sr. went on to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor and was recognized as the last WW-II aviator on active flying duty when he finally retired in 1985 — the last Eagle.
Mike and Mike Jr were interviewed by Tom Ashcroft for NPR in 2003. Listen here:
We toss around the word “hero” so much that it’s lost its meaning. To me, flying Dustoff — rescue missions into battle zones in a lumbering helicopter with no armor and no weapons, a big red “X” on the nose to help your enemy’s aim, protected only by a 1/4″ plastic windscreen and aircraft skin the thickness of a soda can — more than qualified.
Dustoff crews averaged 7-9 missions per day, in thunderstorms, darkness, without radar and usually under fire (someone just shot the guys you’re rescuing.) They saved nearly 900,000 people — half of them Allied soldiers and the other half civilians and enemy soldiers. They did so with no regard for the politics or war nor their own personal safety — over a third were killed or injured while saving others.
They were the most selfless people I’ve ever had the honor to know. They are my heroes.
The story is currently being developed into a motion picture: The Last Eagle. For those interested, I’ll post excerpts from the script periodically. Enjoy!