Twenty-six years before receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam, Michael J. Novosel flew his first combat mission as a US Army Air Corps B-29 pilot during World War II. When the Japanese surrendered aboard the Battle ship Missouri, he also piloted one of nearly 500 B-29s that flew over the ceremony. After the war, he commanded the 99th Bombardment Squadron until its deactivation in 1947, after which he became a B-29 test pilot at Eglin AFB, Florida. Novosel left active duty in 1949 and went into the Air Force Reserve. When hostilities broke out in Vietnam, Lieutenant Colonel Novosel, then a pilot for Southern Airways, wanted to return to combat flying.
However, due to an overage of lieutenant colonels, the Air Force was unable to accept him. Determined to do his part in Southeast Asia, he joined the Army as a warrant officer and began flying helicopters. On 2 October 1969, during his second Vietnam tour as a "Dust-Off" pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Novosel was flying for the 82d Medical Detachment near Cambodia's enemy-dominated "Parrot's Beak" region when he received word that wounded South Vietnamese soldiers were pinned down near an enemy training area. Novosel immediately headed for the location, only to be met by intense ground fire which forced him away a total of six times.
Returning from different directions, he was finally able to complete 15 separate missions into and around the training area. On the last extraction, he hovered backwards into a barrage of fire to keep as much of the airframe as possible between his crew and the enemy. Just as a wounded soldier was being pulled on board, an enemy soldier stood up in the grass 30 yards in front of the ship and fired his AK47 directly at Novosel. Hit by shrapnel and plexiglass in the right hand and leg, he momentarily lost control, but was still able to fly the wounded to safety.
In all, Novosel and his crew saved 29 soldiers during this 2.5-hour mission, ending their day after totaling 11 hours in the air. At the age of 48, Novosel became the Army's oldest Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War. During two Southeast Asia tours, he evacuated more than 5,500 wounded individuals and became known as the "Dean of the Dust Offers." Upon his retirement in February 1985, he was the last active duty military aviator on flying status who had seen combat duty in World War II.
"Dust Off" was the universal call sign for aeromedical evacuation in Vietnam. These units, primarily flying the Army's UH-1 Iroquois "Huey " helicopter, were on-call 24 hours per day. Though unarmed and well marked with the international Red Cross insignia, the Dust Off birds constantly operated under enemy fire. Throughout the Vietnam War, these airborne ambulances moved almost 900,000 Allied and US sick and wounded. Symbolizing the ambulance helicopter role, the unit patch on Novosel's aircraft portrayed a kangaroo ferrying out the wounded in its pouch.