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Jim Schueckler 8219 Parmelee Road LeRoy NY 14482 12/17/97
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December 17:

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 wings".

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 aye-vee- aye-tor..."

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 school.

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…until 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 to fly.

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 began.

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 minutes."

"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:

Ed Sholar04Jun6923W-68
Orval Baldwin05Oct69 17W-38
Jack Barnes01Feb6933W-30
Sam Bosenbark06Jun69 23W-83
Dennis Brault26Jun70 9W-93
Jim Casey18May6924W-37
Fred Chase14Mar6929W-36
Will Clemons03Apr7012W-87
Jim Dunn23Apr6926W-31
Ben Haire20May6924W-59
Rich Holman05Jun6923W-74
Van Joyce12Mar714W-41
Steve Martin31May6923W-29
Doug Moore22May6924W-78
John Reilly22May7010W-81
Bob Williams19Jun6922W-94
Fred Walters22May6924W-80
Jon Vars17Jul6920W-12


and our other classmates:


Tom Bridgesdied during training
Jim Bennettdied after tour, car accident
Arvine Colemandied after tour, cancer
"Larry" Smithdied after tour
Bruce Cowiedied after tour, aircraft accident
Dave Troxelldied after tour, Army aircraft accident
Stew Hunderedied after tour, Army aircraft accident
Larry Tweedydied after tour, heart attack


Rest in peace, brothers.