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Jim Schueckler 8219 Parmelee Road LeRoy NY 14482
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Two great events in the history of Aviation
1) December 17, 1903: Orville Wright flew 120 feet in the world's
first flight in a heavier-than-air powered aircraft.
2) December 17, 1968: Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Aviator Class
68-519 graduated at Fort Rucker, Alabama. We "earned our
Almost all of us in class 68-519 started together in Company B-4-1
in basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In boot camp there
was a cadence song for formation running and we learned to sing
it very loudly, because that was preferred to doing pushups. But
one of our fellow trainees had learned from his older brother
that there were different words to the same tune in flight school.
Almost every man in the fifth platoon was a prospective Army Aviator.
The gung-ho "Airborne" drill sergeants did not fully
appreciate that until one day in the fifth week of boot camp,
when the "trainees" began to realize that the drill
sergeants could not, indeed, kill us. On that fateful day, the
flight school-bound trainees in the fifth platoon agreed that
the next time we had to sing "I want to be an Airborne ranger"
we would, instead, all sing very loudly: "I want to be an
The drill sergeant's response was as we expected: "All of
you *&%#*@* %&$@ who think you are going to be flyboys,
twenty pushups!" We did the pushups. And then, of course,
we sang it our way again. More pushups. We learned to sing "aviator"
only on the way to class or something with a tight schedule, not
meals. This first act of group defiance was the beginning of a
close camaraderie that lasted all through boot camp and flight
In the last week of boot camp, the fifth platoon was allowed to
buy a radio. We huddled around it and listened to the important
and confusing news about Tet-68.
The first week of March, we were bussed to Fort Wolters, Texas
for the first part of flight school, where we became class 68-35.
For the first four weeks, we could not even touch a helicopter.
An OCS-like environment of classes, harassment, marching, inspections,
and cleaning the barracks was easy to accept because we knew we
would soon be flying. We were at Fort Wolters, where the sky was
filled with helicopters! We were finally WOC's, Warrant Officer
Candidates. We learned that when a tactical officer asked: "Candidate:
what is a WOC?", we had to reply: "Sir, a WOC is something
you fwow at a wabbit, sir!" Without smiling, of course, unless
you liked pushups.
Four weeks later, there I finally was, sitting next to an instructor
pilot in a Bell OH-13 (as in M*A*S*H). I was proud and confident
I took the controls. May as well have been a bucking bronco! Humility
returned. The instructor pilot would say: "OK, I have the
cyclic ('sike-lick') and collective controls, you just work the
pedals. Keep the nose pointed the way it is." Easier said
than done. I was soon over controlling and then spinning. Then
he would let me work only the collective pitch, to keep the helicopter
"three feet above the ground." I went between about
twenty feet high and slamming the poor machine on the ground as
the IP kept us perfectly centered. Then finally, I had only the
cyclic control with instructions to stay above a 20x20 foot blacktop
square. I started swinging back and forth, uncontrollably. While
trying to stay over that square, I accidentally took off, sideways.
On the quiet bus ride back to the barracks other WOC's humbly
reported the same experience, as each of us secretly wondered
if we would ever be able to fly a helicopter or if we would be
among the high percentage that gets "washed out."
On the fourth day of flying I began to think that I just might,
some day, be able to control such a machine. In the third week
of flying, the first candidate in class 68-35 soloed. Fortunately,
we were flying out of the stage field that required the bus to
pass the Holiday Inn on the way back to Fort Wolters. Under the
arch made of two rotor blades, with the sign that read "Under
these arches pass the world's greatest aviators" we ceremoniously
dragged our newly-soloed brother to the swimming pool
and threw him in.
Every day, for the next few weeks, the bus would stop at that
Holiday Inn or, if coming from the wrong stage field, the muddy
Brazos river. Either place was just as much fun, where each new
inductee would try to pull his brother WOC's into the water with
him. I have a
great photograph of Fred Chase being thrown into
the pool on the day he soloed.
In July, while out practicing landing at confined areas, one WOC
spotted a "gold mine". A huge patch of large, ripe,
watermelons. The farmer had planted rows of tall corn around the
edges of the patch so that passers-by in cars would not see the
melons. But such camouflage was futile against young helicopter
pilots. Our first hot extraction! We picked our own radio frequency
and planned every detail. Only three ships went in, I was one
of those assigned to provide cover and recon. along the road to
the south. The mission went as planned, and that evening, in the
few minutes between supper and mandatory study time, we feasted
on ripe watermelon; the spoils of war.
Then, our first night cross country navigation exercise. We took
off five minutes apart, two students in each helicopter. We probably
didn't really need to navigate, just follow the lights of the
helicopters in front of us. But they were students, too! Better
navigate. "What's that little symbol on the map, directly
on the pencil line of our course? Why, it's a drive-in theater!
Yes, I can see the drive-in ahead, looks like the helicopter in
front of us is almost over it. Look, you can make out the movie!"
Then the screen went white. A few seconds later, the movie was
visible again. Then as we were almost over the drive-in, wouldn't
you know it: one of us bumped our landing light switch, too. Damn:
I hate it when it does that.
Graduation from Fort Wolters was the first week in August-- then
on to Fort Rucker where we became class 68-519. Some guys went
to their home towns to get married; Ed Sholar married Joyce, and
I married Judy. Since boot camp Ed and I had almost always stood
next to each other in lines which were always alphabetical.
There was no OCS-like environment at Fort Rucker, just serious
flying and classes about flying. I loved every minute! On my first
day of instrument training, the IP asked if I wanted to try a
ground controlled approach, where a radar operator on the ground
gives the pilot instructions to follow a course to the ground.
My track on his radar screen probably looked like I was drunk.
A few weeks later when I tried my first instrument takeoff, I
took off backwards! Not good; the instructor pilot gave me a pink
slip for that day.
Finally, in mid-November, we transitioned to the UH-1. The Huey.
I shivered with awe as I touched the door handle to get in. Big,
heavy, stable, responsive, and with smooth controls: the Huey
was a modern, powerful, proud machine. And they were letting me
fly it. Me! I could hardly believe it. Flying an H-13 was like
wrestling with it, but a Huey wanted to be stable, and it wanted
Forget all that technical stuff they've been giving us, this machine
is alive! With my left hand, I wound up the throttle and heard
that 1100 horsepower engine respond. Then I pulled up the collective
pitch control and asked the machine to hover. It did! A love affair
One of the most notable events was during low-level navigation
training. We were all listening to the same frequency. Blackhawk
35 was the call sign of two students in a Huey; Paddy Center was
the call sign of instructor pilots in an airplane, simulating
a flight following station.
"Blackhawk 35, this is Paddy Center, what is your location?"
"This is Blackhawk 35, expecting checkpoint bravo in ten
"Roger, report crossing checkpoint bravo."
About 12 minutes later: "Blackhawk 35, this is Paddy Center,
what is your location?"
"This is Blackhawk 35, we are over Lake Cassidy, heading
south, expecting checkpoint bravo in ten minutes."
"Roger, report crossing checkpoint bravo."
Another 10 minutes later: "Blackhawk 35, this is Paddy Center,
what is your location?"
"This is Blackhawk 35, we are still over Lake Cassidy, expecting
checkpoint bravo in ten minutes."
"Blackhawk 35, please describe Lake Cassidy."
"This is Blackhawk 35, on the North side was a white sandy
beach and some hotels. We can't see the south side yet."
"Blackhawk 35, immediately turn north and climb to one thousand
feet. When you get back to the United States, please note that
the Gulf of Mexico is much larger than Lake Cassidy."
"This is Blackhawk 35, roger."
It wasn't me. Honest! I just heard the conversations.
December 17, 1968 we became Warrant Officers and could wear the
wings of an Army Aviator. Joyce pinned on Ed's wings; Judy pinned
on mine. Judy bought an 18 inch wide replica of the small wings.
Had to hang it on the wall, didn't look right on my uniform.
One pilot actually had orders to Germany! Could be because he
already had two tours in Vietnam as an enlisted man. A few guys
had orders to Chinook, Cobra, or Medevac school, but most of us
would be in many different units in Vietnam within three weeks.
I lost track of most of my flight school classmates until I joined
the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. In the VHPA directory
I found that many of their names were etched into history, carved
on that black granite Wall in Washington, DC.
On the 90th anniversary of man's first powered flight,
and the 25th anniversary of earning their own wings,
I salute the special graduates of class 68-519
whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial:
and our other classmates:
|Tom Bridges||died during training|
|Jim Bennett||died after tour, car accident|
|Arvine Coleman||died after tour, cancer|
|"Larry" Smith||died after tour|
|Bruce Cowie||died after tour, aircraft accident|
|Dave Troxell||died after tour, Army aircraft accident|
|Stew Hundere||died after tour, Army aircraft accident|
|Larry Tweedy||died after tour, heart attack|
Rest in peace, brothers.