Michael J. Novosel, at age 48, earned his nation's highest award for valor when he rescued 29 soldiers from certain death! Born and raised in Etna, Pennsylvania, Novosel became an aviation cadet in the Army Air Force (USAAF). After earning his pilot wings and commission on 15 December 1942, he instructed in the North American AT-6 Texan at Laredo Army Air Field, Texas. Detached from the USAAF in 1943, he trained for a classified mission, but soon returned to instructor duty. By December 1944, he had logged over 800 hours in the Consolidated B-24 Liberator supporting aerial gunner training. He then went to Maxwell AFB, Alabama, to check out in the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
Following crew training in New Mexico, in July 1945, he left for Tinian in the Pacific and flew four combat missions with the 58th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy). After the end of World War II (WWII), he flew two missions to drop food to allied prisoners of war in Japan. During the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, Novosel flew a B-29 in a 462-ship fly over! He then took command of the 99th Bombardment Squadron (VH) and remained in the Pacific until the fall of 1947. Posted to Eglin AFB, Florida, he was a B-29 flight pilot until 1949, when he left active duty and joined the Air Force Reserve. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War but, instead of flying, was sent to Air Command and Staff School.
As the war in Southeast Asia escalated, Novosel volunteered again, but the Air Force deemed him too old, so he joined the Army as a warrant officer. He learned to fly helicopters and soon returned to combat. He served two tours in South Vietnam and flew 2,543 missions in the Bell UH-1 Huey.; As a "dustoff" pilot, he airlifted nearly 5,600 medical evacuees. During his second tour, he was nominated for and later received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Following his heroic service in Vietnam, he served three years at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as chief test pilot for the Army's Golden Knight parachute team. He jumped with the team on occasion to maintain proficiency.
Later, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, Novosel lectured in the Warrant Officer Career College and then became Senior Tactical Officer in the Warrant Officer Candidate Program. In 1985, he was the last WW II pilot actively flying and was known as the "Dean of the Dustoff pilots." During his retirement ceremony, he received a rare honor for a living hero; the main street of Fort Rucker became Novosel Avenue. In 1992, he marched with other WWII veterans from around the world across Red Square in Russia's Victory-in-Europe Parade. Novosel actively lectures now on his autobiography, Dustoff, The Memoir of an Army Aviator.
The war in Southeast Asia was the first conflict in history that the helicopter played a major role. When allied forces engaged the elusive enemy, "dustoff" helicopters flew into the heart of the battle to medevac direly wounded soldiers to field hospitals. During 1969 and 1970, operations for the 82nd Medical Detachment at Binh Thuy were intense as the enemy stepped up operations in the Mekong River delta. Battle damaged and downed helicopters were common.