Rank and organization: Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Army, 82d Medical Detachment, 45th Medical Company, 68th Medical Group. Place and date: Kien Tuong Province, Republic of Vietnam, 2 October 1969. Entered service at: Kenner, La. Born: 3 September 1922, Etna, Pa. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. CWO Novosel, 82d Medical Detachment, distinguished himself while serving as commander of a medical evacuation helicopter. He unhesitatingly maneuvered his helicopter into a heavily fortified and defended enemy training area where a group of wounded Vietnamese soldiers were pinned down by a large enemy force. Flying without gunship or other cover and exposed to intense machinegun fire, CWO Novosel was able to locate and rescue a wounded soldier. 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. This display of courage visibly raised their morale, as they recognized this as a signal to assemble for evacuation. On 6 occasions he and his crew were forced out of the battle area by the intense enemy fire, only to circle and return from another direction to land and extract additional troops. Near the end of the mission, a wounded soldier was spotted close to an enemy bunker. Fully realizing that he would attract a hail of enemy fire, CWO Novosel nevertheless attempted the extraction by hovering the helicopter backward. As the man was pulled on aboard, enemy automatic weapons opened fire at close range, damaged the aircraft and wounded CWO Novosel. He momentarily lost control of the aircraft, but quickly recovered and departed under the withering enemy fire. In all, 15 extremely hazardous extractions were performed in order to remove wounded personnel. As a direct result of his selfless conduct, the lives of 29 soldiers were saved. The extraordinary heroism displayed by CWO Novosel was an inspiration to his comrades in arms and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Novosel's service to his country spanned three wars — World War II, The Korean War and The Vietnam War. He was born in Pittsburgh area town of Etna, Pennsylvania, the son of Croatian immigrants, and grew up during the Great Depression fluently speaking both his parents' tongue and English. At the age of 19, Novosel joined what was then the Army Air Corps. That was just ten months prior to Pearl Harbor, and by 1945, he was a Captain flying B-29 Superfortress bombers in the war against Japan. He left the service for a brief time due to reductions in force after the war was over and settled in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to raise his family.
Novosel joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves and went back on active duty to again serve his country during the Korean War. He left the service again in 1953 and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve in 1955. In 1963, Novosel was working as a commercial airline pilot when a deep sense of patriotism called him to return to active military duty. By then, he was 42 and the Air Force did not have space for any more officers in the upper ranks. It was then that Novosel made the decision to give up his rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force to join the Army and fly helicopters as a chief warrant officer with the elite Special Forces Aviation Section. He served his first tour in Vietnam flying medevac helicopters (Dustoff) with the 283rd Medical Detachment. His second tour in Vietnam was with the 82nd Medical Detachment. During that war, Novosel flew 2,543 missions and extracted 5,589 wounded personnel, among them his own son, Michael J. Novosel, Jr. (the following week Michael J. Novosel, Jr. returned the favor by extracting his father after being shot down) . On the morning of October 2, 1969, he set out to evacuate a group of South Vietnamese soldiers who were surrounded by the enemy near the Cambodian border. The soldiers' radio communication was lost and their ammunition expended. Without air cover or fire support, Novosel flew at low altitudes while under continuous enemy fire. He skimmed the ground with his helicopter, while his medic and crew chief yanked the wounded men on board. He completed 15 hazardous extractions, was wounded in a barrage of enemy fire and momentarily lost control of his helicopter that day, but when it was over, he had rescued 29 men. Novosel completed his tour in March 1970. In 1971, then Pres. Richard Nixon placed the nation's highest award for valor in combat, the U.S. Medal of Honor, around Novosel's neck. Among his many other awards, Novosel received the Distinguished Service Cross (which was later upgraded to the MOH), Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry, The Old Guard, carry Retired Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Novosel Sr., Medal of Honor Recipient, during a funeral procession at Arlington National Cemetery.
Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens.
He was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1975. When Novosel retired as the senior warrant officer with the Warrant Officer Candidate Program in 1985, he had been a military aviator for 42 years and was the last WW II military aviator in the U.S. to remain on active flying duty. Novosel accumulated 12,400 military flying hours, including 2,038 in combat during his career. Upon his retirement, he received a rare honor for a living hero when the main street at Fort Rucker, Alabama was renamed "Novosel Street." He also received his final award, the Distinguished Service Medal during his retiring cemerony. While residing in Enterprise, Alabama, Novosel remained active in the military community during his retirement. He frequently was invited as the honored guest for military lectures and ceremonies spanning the entire country to share his unique insights, even until the final weeks before he died. His book, Dustoff - The Memoir of an Army Aviator, was published in 1999.
Diagnosed with a recurrent cancer in November 2005, he had undergone a series of highly successful treatments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The cancer tumor had been greatly reduced in December 2005 and January 2006. In February 2006, Novosel concluded chemotherapy and other treatments and waited to regain strength in preparation for surgery on March 7,. His prognosis appeared excellent. Despite new and innovative procedures to reduce trauma, he never fully recovered from the shock of the surgery. He died on April 2, 2006 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on April 13, 2006.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
By Milan Simonich, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Etna native Michael J. Novosel, the fearless helicopter pilot who received the Medal of Honor for rescuing 29 wounded soldiers during a battle in Vietnam, has died.
He had been hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for complications of liver cancer, said his longtime friend, Steve Truban of Etna. Mr. Novosel, who died on Sunday, was 83.
Michael J. Novosel ... his bravery in Vietnam as a a helicopter pilot saved the lives of 29 soldiers during one mission.
Mr. Novosel insisted on listing his height at "5 feet, 3 and seven-eighths of an inch" -- too short to qualify as a pilot when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces on Feb. 7, 1941. But Japan bombed Pearl Harbor 10 months later, creating instant demand for more war pilots. Suddenly, nobody cared that he was an eighth of an inch shorter than the Army's height requirement of 5 feet 4 inches.
Despite his diminutive stature, Mr. Novosel became a giant of the U.S. military. He flew bombers in World War II and transport planes in Korea. Then, after being diagnosed with glaucoma, he achieved legendary status as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
Though he fought in three wars, Mr. Novosel was not a career military man. He left the service after his first two wars to work in commercial aviation.
Mr. Novosel was flying for the old Southern Airlines in the 1960s when doctors told him he had glaucoma that could lead to blindness. He knew he would lose his job as a civilian pilot and said he could not stand the thought of becoming an airline baggage handler, even though he had a wife and four children to support.
He assessed his options and thought of President Kennedy's admonition that Americans should ask what they could do for their country. Inspired by Mr. Kennedy's words, he re-enlisted in the Army, this time to serve in the most unpopular of conflicts -- the war in Vietnam.
Again in need of combat pilots, the Army had different standards than the business world. Mr. Novosel's glaucoma would not be an obstacle if he wanted to fly in Vietnam.
"I knew I had the aviation skills to help. I thought I should do my part and volunteer," he said in a 1996 interview with the Post-Gazette.
Mr. Novosel received the rank of chief warrant officer with the 82nd Medical Detachment and took one of the most dangerous jobs on earth -- "dustoff" pilot. These Army airmen fly helicopters into battlefields and hover long enough to haul away injured soldiers.
He flew his most famous rescue mission in Kien Tuong Province on Oct. 2, 1969. Then 47, Mr. Novosel was old enough to be the father of just about everybody else involved in the battle.
His job was to pick up South Vietnamese soldiers who were hemmed in by a large force of attacking North Vietnamese.
"He unhesitatingly maneuvered his helicopter into a heavily fortified and defended enemy training area," says his Medal of Honor citation. " ... Flying without gunship or other cover and exposed to intense machine-gun fire, Chief Warrant Officer Novosel was able to locate and rescue a wounded soldier."
That was just the beginning of one of the most daring rescue operations in military history. Six times enemy fire drove Mr. Novosel and his crew from the battleground. He returned after every setback, flying low to lure the wounded soldiers to his helicopter.
After picking up a handful of injured men, he would fly them to the safety of a special forces camp. Then he returned again and again for more human cargo.
As darkness fell, Mr. Novosel spotted the last of the wounded soldiers near an enemy bunker. Taking an enormous risk, he backed his helicopter toward the man, hanging a few feet above the ground as enemy gunners took aim at him.
A sniper positioned about 30 yards from the helicopter fired at Mr. Novosel. The rifleman missed the kill shot, but his bullets ripped into Mr. Novosel's right leg, above and below the knee. Shrapnel tore into his right hand.
Mr. Novosel lost control of his helicopter for a second or two, but recovered as the wounded soldier came aboard. Then, with bullets still flying all around him, Mr. Novosel flew everybody to safety.
"In all, 15 extremely hazardous extractions were performed in order to remove wounded personnel. As a direct result of his selfless conduct, the lives of 29 soldiers were saved," says his Medal of Honor citation.
Mr. Novosel had little time to think about that moment. As a dustoff pilot, he flew 2,543 missions and rescued 5,589 wounded or stranded soldiers, according to Army records.
Even though he and his crew faced death many times, the mission at Kien Tuong Province stood out from the rest. Mr. Novosel asked that the regulars on his helicopter -- co-pilot, crew chief and medic -- be awarded the Silver Star for their icy professionalism. The others thought that Mr. Novosel deserved an even greater tribute.
President Nixon agreed. In 1971, he awarded Mr. Novosel the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for bravery.
Mr. Novosel's son, Michael Jr., also flew helicopters in Vietnam. They were the only father-son aviators in the same unit in combat, a fact that Mr. Nixon mentioned when they met. But the war, by then, was so unpopular that Mr. Novosel's story was largely overlooked.
Years later, after emotions had cooled, Mr. Novosel found Americans interested in his life's story. His calendar was jammed with appearances and speaking engagements. He also wrote a memoir, "Dustoff," which was published in 1999.
The son of a shoe repairman and a homemaker, Mr. Novosel grew up during the Great Depression. After graduating from Etna High School in 1940, he joined the Army in hopes of making a living. Once the height requirement was disposed of, his superiors found that the had a knack for flying under pressure.
"He never made an excuse for anything. He was the kind of guy you'd like to have beside you," Mr. Truban said.
After coming home from Vietnam, Mr. Novosel settled in Enterprise, Ala. A viewing of his body will be held there. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
First published on April 5, 2006 at 12:00 am
Michael J. Novosel Sr., who commanded a medical evacuation helicopter during the Vietnam War, risked his life to save the lives of 29 soldiers in Kien Tuong province on October 2, 1969.
He entered a heavily fortified enemy training area, where a group of friendly, wounded Vietnamese soldiers were pinned down. To attract their attention and get them to assemble for evacuation, he circled under constant machine gun fire at a low level and was forced from the area six times.
After the rescue and as the mission was ending, CWO Novosel spotted another wounded soldier. Although he was successful in this rescue, too, he was wounded while flying at close range by enemy automatic weapons, according to his Congressional Medal of Honor citation.
CWO Novosel, of Enterprise, Alabama, formerly of Etna, died Sunday, April 2, 2006, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., after a long battle with cancer. He was 83.
"Money and power weren't important to him," said his son, Michael Novosel Jr. "What was important to him was honor and doing what was right."
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military decoration.
Born September 3, 1922, in Etna, CWO Novosel was the son of the late Michael and Kate Segina Novosel. He graduated from Etna High School in 1940 and wanted to be a pilot. In 1941, Mr. Novosel joined the Army Air Corps.
"To my father, it was a big deal to become a pilot," his son said.
CWO Novosel was a quarter-inch short of the required height of 5 feet, 4 inches needed to become a pilot, but he was able to pass the height exam through sweet talk and earned his way into the Flight Cadet Training program in Lake Charles, Louisiana, his son said.
He became a bomber pilot and later an instructor.
CWO Novosel was stationed on Tinian Island, Northern Marianas, during World War II and for two years afterward. He flew a B-29 Superfortress as a command pilot during the war.
He dropped bombs over Tokyo and conducted a flyover of the ceremonies on the USS Missouri when Japan surrendered.
Later, CWO Novosel was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and eventually joined the Air Force Reserve.
In 1948, he married the former Ethel Graham, who grew up in Shaler. She was a member of the Marine Corps.
When the Korean War began, CWO Novosel was brought back to duty but did not go overseas.
He later served as an airline pilot and flight instructor with Southern Airways, a commercial airline in contract with the Air Force and Army, in Georgia and Texas.
"When dad was at Fort Walters (in Texas), President Kennedy was assassinated," Michael Novosel Jr. said. "Through the famous words of John Kennedy, 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,' my father left Southern Airways to go back into combat."
The Air Force told CWO Novosel it did not have an appropriate position for him, so he contacted the Army. It gave him a position flying a medical evacuation helicopter, or Dustoff, in Vietnam.
He flew his first tour of duty beginning in 1964 and his second beginning in 1969, his son said.
In 1970, CWO Novosel and his son overlapped four months of combat, making them the first father and son pair to fly together in combat, his son said.
"I missed my father so much growing up that I decided to do what he did," Michael Novosel Jr. said. "He is a war buddy."
CWO Novosel retired from the military in 1984 after 44 years. He was the author of "Dustoff: The Memoir of an Army Aviator," which detailed his military service.
He is survived by two sons, John Novosel, of Auburn, Alabama, and Michael J. Novosel Jr., of Shalimar, Florida.; two daughters, Jeannie Vineyard, of Phoenix, and Patti Clevenger, of Enterprise, Alabama; four grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and a brother, Frank Novosel, of Anchorage, Alaska.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Ethel Novosel; three brothers, Nick, Josip and Anthony Novosel; and a sister, Anne.