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Interview with Michael J. Novosel, Sr. [n.d.]

Unknown interviewer:

--give me your name, first name and spell your last name, and where are you from?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Okay. My name is Michael. J. Novosel. My last name is spelled N-O-V-O-S-E-L. My--pla--primary place of residence is Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. And I have a secondary home in Enterprise, Alabama.

Unknown interviewer:

And what was your--your final--rank when you left the service?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Believe it or not, I--left the service as a--CW 4, a Chief Warrant Officer 4, although I had served for over nine years as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U--Air Force Reserve.

Unknown interviewer:

Okay. All right, let--let's start with your childhood. Where did you grow up?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

I was born and raised in the small town of Etna, E-T-N-A, Etna, Pennsylvania, in western Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, born, raised there, and educated there. I might add that--my parents were--fresh off the boat, so to speak, from--Europe, from--at that time they--they came over as Austrian citizens. That part of Austria where they lived was later incorporated into the country of Yugoslavia. My mother--could spoke only Croatian. My father spoke Croatian, German and English. He'd been a businessman in Vienna. Because my mother couldn't speak any English, naturally on--I didn't know English myself until I went to school. So--my primary--language was Croatian.

Unknown interviewer:

Did you parents tell you--why they came to America, why they decided to come?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

E--essentially just--for bet--better business opportunities. My father was a suc--a successful shoemaker in the days when you made custom-made shoes. You didn't buy store boughts. And that was his business in Vienna. He was educated in, in Austria. And--he emigrated to New York and from there he came to western Pennsylvania where I was born. [NOISE IN BACKGROUND]

Unknown interviewer:

Okay. Growing up, who did you look up to?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

I really--[PAUSE] don't believe that I had an--anyone who was a role model, as we say today. We didn't know the term role model in those days. You have to remember that--I and my fellow classmates were a product of the Great Depression. At that time we really didn't have--many people that we could look up to, although I--if I recall correctly, the ones that--that I got the most pleasure from--was the local--baseball club which was called the Pittsburgh Pirates. And I was--fortunate enough to be able to see--about one game every two weeks, or at least whenever the--the Pirates were in town. And I still remember the--the primary players. I remember the Wayner [?] Brothers--and Paul Waynor. There's Bit Poison and Little Poison. In the days of--real professional ballplayers, as I called 'em, I don't believe that those people--earned more than maybe 50,000 a year, if they did that. I don't even think they got that. [VOICES IN THE BACKGROUND] But both were able to hit well over 300. Paul Waynor was the better of the two. He probably had a lifetime average of 330. Players like Arkie Vaughn [?]. Later on I met--and worked with a man who was a very--well, he--he played on a very famous team, if you will, the Chicago White Sox/Black Sox. I got to know Moberg [?], the auxiliary catcher of that team who was not involved in the scandal--who--he never said it but I, he'd been reputed to--speak seven languages, and never to have been thrown out of a major league baseball game. And the re--reason for that was--if he was displeased with what the umpire said, he would say something to him or curse him out, if you will, in one of the foreign languages that he knew that the umpires didn't. So he got away with murder.

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And this was a big man. And he worked for a while with Bill Donovan, OSS. And I had a tour with OSS in World War II,

Unknown interviewer:

Oh--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

So--I suppose--now there, there's a man that I really admired--was--of course, by this time I'm 20 years old.

Unknown interviewer:

Yeah. And what made you--enlist?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Essentially just to--get an education. [NOISE IN BACKGROUND] In--this was in 1941. February and when I--actually, I--I was going to enlist in late 1940. Unfortunately, I had a attack of appendicitis and that put m--put my timetable about three months. And I--I finally got into the service in February 7, 1941, ten months to the day before Pearl Harbor. People in those days just--number one, there were no--there were no substantial scholarships. There were no government programs. Only the ultra rich could afford--college. I r--I recognized that I--there was no way that I could--go to--go to college. We couldn't even get a job--to support ourselves while we were in college, if that were--that was more possible later on. You have to remember that the minimum wage at this time was 25 cents an hour, if you could get a job. So-- [OVERTALK]

Unknown interviewer:

So [ ? ]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

For a student, you know, to--to presuppose that he could get a job, but at a time when--roughly speaking, 20 percent or--or more people in America were unemployed. That just give--gives you an--an idea of the temper of the times.

Unknown interviewer:

Well, okay. So you--you did it for your education.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yep.

Unknown interviewer:

What made you join the service that you did, the Air-- [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

The Air Force? I suppose I heard more--advertisements from them on the radio. Remember, we didn't have TV. Everything was radio. But even so, they--they--they still advertised on the radio. And--and, and the good things that they could do for you, the many schools that were open, and--[PAUSE] it appeared like they had the--in my estimation, the--the--the better chance for-for a really good education. Plus the fact that by now remember, I'm--I'm 18 and I'm really thinking that I would really love to learn fly or to be c--somewhere connected with the flying business. And--I really--if, if someone would have asked me at that point when I enlisted, do you think you'll go to--pilot training, I--w--I would have been very doubtful because my lack of formal education which I knew to be a necessary part, but I didn't realize how, how--good a basic educational system the State of Pennsylvania gave me because later on I took the--the test that would qualify me to--to show an equivalency to two years of college, and which I passed with no problem, and which surprised me.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me about your training. [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

As pilots?

Unknown interviewer:

Yeah. Where did you do it?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Oh, training in those days--required three phases, primary, basic and advanced. Each one required a move to a different station, different flying field. My primary was spent at Barnum [?], Texas, required 60 hours of flying training. The second phase was basic at Waco, Texas. Third was--advanced at Lake Charles, Louisiana. The 60 hours of training in--in primary was very--how would I say--draconic. You had to really produce. You had to learn on schedule. And they couldn't waste time with you. You had to solo by the time you had 12 hours. I was fortunate. I soloed, I remember, in nine and a half. You had to c--achieve certain levels of proficiency. And if you didn't achieve those, well you were just sent packing. And there were no questions asked. You had no--chance to--argue your position, no reclammer [?] [PAUSE] The system, like I said, was very--drac--draconic, austere. If you didn't learn on schedule you were, you were out. And the--but to give you an idea of the--ability of the, of the training of the--or of the students, at the end of those 60 hours I was--I and all the other students that--graduated with me from primary--we were capable of doing every acro--acrobatic maneuver known to man. Every one. And--[PAUSE] as an example, on my first solo flights outside the area, in other words what we called the practice area, the--the instructor told me to get an airplane from the dispatcher and to go out and practice for an hour. I asked what should I practice. He said practice everything you've been taught so far. Basically that was a few--a few stalls and--basic--maneuvers like shandells [?] which is a--a climbing maneuver. And--

Unknown interviewer:

What kind of planes were they?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

It's a PT 19, open cockpit. One of the things that I was taught, of course, which we had to know before we soloed was a spin. So I--I got tired of doing these basic maneuvers, and I decided I'll do some spins. And I d--spent the majority of the hour doing spins. When I got back the instructor asked me what I was doing. I told him, and then I told him that I sp--that I did spins most of the time. And then he told me--you know, you weren't supposed to do spins solo, you're supposed to have an instructor to do that. I said well, you never told me that. [LAUGHTER] So--[LAUGHS] but-- [OVERTALK] But he got a big chuckle out of that, the fact that--that I preferred doing spins than regular maneuvers. So--

Unknown interviewer:

Do you remember your first action, you-- [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Oh--[PAUSE] the first part of the war that I rec--that I remember was that I was at--Wichita Falls, Texas when the war was declared. I'd been to church that morning. And as I was walking back to base a convertible drove by. And he happened to have a radio, which is--unusual in this--in 1941, that I could hear--he had the volume up. I guess he wanted everybody to hear it, that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. So I remember that. But the actual combat, I did not get into combat 'til in the war, 1945. By this time I'm a B29 aircraft commander.

Unknown interviewer:

Wow. [NOISE IN BACKGROUND]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yeah--in other words, you--that was the same air--the same type aircraft as the Nola Gay [?]. And, incidentally, based on the same island--the Island of Tinnian. [?]

Unknown interviewer:

So where did they--they moved you out to the Pacific?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Oh yes. [CLEARS THROAT] That--that's a convoluted story in itself. You have to realize, I'm--just barely five feet four inches tall, and I was destined to be a pursuit pilot, which I was when I graduated. And somehow I got--moved into bombers--B 24's, B 17's and I flew--just about every operational bomber that we had by the time I flew the B 29. [NOISE IN BACKGROUND]

Unknown interviewer:

And that's--you did your first runs--in the Pacific?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yes. Yeah. Again, from the Island of Tinnian, the--the--the missions, incidentally--I'll give you an idea of the, of the type missions. A minimum l--length of the mission was 15 and a half hours, half the time going up to the bombing area and half the time coming back. Again, the--the demands on the crew were quite severe, no--air to air refueling was not a--a--an operational fact. We had to--fly up to--to the Empire--as we called the--the j--the Japanese homeland, up to the Empire and back on our own. One mission actually took me 17 hours and ten minutes. So to give you an idea of--of the physical demands on you. It's--it's quite a tiring experience to sit-- [OVERTALK] --that long, you know.

Unknown interviewer:

Do you remember the first time you were shot at?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

[PAUSE] Not exactly the first time. But I remember--which, incidentally, the--the Japanese were not good--anti-aircraft gunners. And that's--that was the only--fire that we received. And it was very sporadic. And it was--inconsequential, as far as we were concerned. I was shot at--better at closer by my own Navy.

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And this was on purpose. After the war was over, they actually saw me--doing some--maneuvers with a B 29 where I was given--a--a copilot, a check ride to make him an aircraft commander. And part of this was what we called confidence maneuvers, and I was doing the shandell which is, again, is a climbing maneuver. And at the top of the climb I saw a burst of flack [?] about 500 yards ahead of me at the same time my tail gunner reports flack 500 yards to his rear. What--what the Navy had done was bracketed me, fired ahead of me and behind me at the top of a climb. Well, I figured that they--it was a mistake. Remember now, the war is over. They're not supposed to--shooting at me, you know. And I just sat--immediately I made a very rapid--what we call a desc--a wingover, plus a descent. I lost 3000 feet of altitude as fast as I could to get out of there. Again, I--I see a fla--a burst of flack 500 meters a--or, or yards ahead of me and a tail gunner reports the same thing. It was a Navy--again, they were practicing and using me as a--as a target, with their radars, what it was--radar directed guns.

Unknown interviewer:

Unbelievable.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Well--[PAUSE] this was right--right over Tinnian Harbor, and I looked down below and I saw the aircraft carrier. Well, as it turned out later, it wasn't the aircraft carrier that was doing the firing, it was the escorts. But I blamed it on the aircraft carrier, and I continued diving down to--sea level altitude. And I was going to--pay them back, so to speak. I went and circled that aircraft carrier on a--like I was landing in the traffic pattern, put my--wheels down and my gear down, put my flaps down and made an approach on the aircraft carrier.

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

But remember, he's got an island. And my--B 29's a big airplane. What I wanted to do was to hit my--landing gear onto their--carrier, maybe make a dent in it. [LAUGHTER] But I had to re--turn off the lass [?] instantly because that--that island was just too--too close. It was--I couldn't have done it. And--but, but the--but the people on the carrier were giving me all sorts of wave offs with their hands--

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHING]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

So--

Unknown interviewer:

They were worried about you-- [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And I still remember the name of the aircraft carrier, the Barnhome Richard [?].

Unknown interviewer:

Oh boy.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Which is a--it, it--it actually had a--its counterpart was used in, in the Revolutionary War. We had a Barnhome Richard at that war. [?] So--

Unknown interviewer:

Interesting. Okay, let's--let's move forward--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yeah--

Unknown interviewer:

--to the--the actions that took place for your Medal.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yeah.

Unknown interviewer:

What war are we in, and-- [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

No, now it's Vietnam.

Unknown interviewer:

Okay. Now we're in Vietnam--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yeah. And I'm flying helicopters now. [PAUSE] [LAUGHS]

Unknown interviewer:

Wow. So you flew just about everything.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

I also instructed in jets. [OVERTALK] This is during the--[PAUSE] that was right after the Korean War, when I--when I had an instructor's job. But--by now I'm flying helicopters and--my job is medical evacuation. And the call sign, the universal phrase for medical evacuation in Vietnam was--dust off, D-U-S-T-O-F-F, dustoff. My call sign was--dustoff 8-8. And that's what's--what, what I was known as during my--my--my--my year in 1969, 1970. I received the mission at about four o'clock in the afternoon. After I'd been--after me and the crew had been flying seven hours, we received the mission to--go up to the--Cambodian border. That's where the mission plotted out. And--it was a--a flaky mission, if you will. By that I mean, we didn't know very much. All we know--that we were needed up there. And I proceeded to go up there, rather chagrined because I thought my--my--my day was just--after flying seven hours but now--now--now it--I, I had--quite a few number of hours to go before I was through, as it turned out. What it was--when we finally got--got on station and made contact with the--what we call the C and C, the command and control aircraft-- [BEEPS] [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] [PAUSE]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

So we're--we're in the area, and now the mission is more clear. What had happened was that--the--we had a s--a three-company--strike force attacking--known Vietcong positions. The intelligence evidently was--was in error and the, the--the force that they were attacking was much stronger than they anticipated. The lead element was cut off, and the commander of troops decided to disengage. He'd wri--in other words, he--retrograded--that's the term for a retreat. And--he left a group of soldiers--that had been cut off to the--to their own devices. And--this happened at about eight o'clock in the morning. I didn't get the mission until four. That meant that they had been--well, they were surrounded by the enemy. They had been s--in that surrounded state from eight o'clock 'til four o'clock, plus. And I was asked to go--extricate them, in other words, get 'em out of there, if I could. All were wounded. And many other things happened that--I was not informed of immediately. I found out later--that the place was also being attacked by Air Force F 100's. Every one of the F 100's was hit by a 50 caliber machine--anti-aircraft machine gun fire. The Army had two gun ships that were attacking. One of them was shot down. But before I arrived on the scene the one that was shot down was already a--hauled out by Shinook [?]. So when I got there, the--the area is relatively clean. The Air Force is not there. The sh--the--downed Army aircraft is already--recovered. For whatever reasons, the C and C doesn't tell me this. They had asked me to go and--and my crew to evacuate these peo--unknown number of people that are down there. All he knows is that they're all wounded. We make two abortive attempts--that, that failed. And of course, every time they're--at, at the surface to--to rescue these people, why--I met with the machine gun fire--and other fire from around the clock, so to speak. Since they're surrounded, the enemy is all around, they're able to fire at me. It required a different, different procedure of what we--from what we were doing, and I decided to--just skim along the ground with my helicopter, never stopping, in an area where I assumed from the way the firing was going where our friendly troops had to be. You can tell this by the way the firing pattern goes. And sure enough, I--I assumed the right position. And what we wanted to do was to have these wounded people stand up as we--as I went by them real close, and then we would yank 'em on board, grab 'em by the wrist or whatever and pull 'em on board while the enemy is still--trying to get us. Well, it worked. And we loaded up the aircraft with about eight or nine, maybe ten people. And--it's a Huey [?] and we can't hold very many more. Besides the, the medic can't do any--can't do any work on--on helping them with their wounds. And I take 'em to a Special Forces camp nearby. It's about a ten-minute flight, drop 'em off, get some fuel, return. I had to--and in--in other words, I did this three different times. I'd load up--nine or ten, take them to the Special Forces camp, get more ref--more fuel and return. The whole thing took me two and a half hours.

Unknown interviewer:

How many people did you pull out?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

We pulled out a total of 29. Apparently, that was all the wounded that were there. We were very fortunate, 'cause we didn't know. By this time, it's already dark--or nearly--where you can't see anything. On the last mission--on the last pickup, why--one of my crewmen said that he sees a friendly--apparently a friendly man hel--waving a rag. But he's behind us. So the quickest way to get to him is for me to hover the helicopter backwards to his position and then--have him pulled on board and--[PAUSE] then we would get out of there. I always have--you know, since the fact--I had always thought that it was a setup. But at that time I didn't think so. I wasn't thinking that way. I'd been successful. We'd--we'd--we'd been hit--a number of times, you know, on--on the aircraft. But as we--came to a halt to pick this man up and we yanked him on board, that's when the man stood up about 30 yards--in front of me--with his AK and emptied it at--at me personally. And for some reason, although I was hit, I wasn't hit fatally. Three of the--of those projectiles actually hit--on either side of my body, hit the armor plate that surround me but from the inside. And we retrieved those bullets later on. [PAUSE] At the same time a--a, a part of a bullet--hit my hand which was on the stick, which caused the stick to go back. And a--another bullet projectile glanced off the rubber sole of my boot so that it caused my--a--a--that part--that, that--leg to go in, causing the other leg to go out, pushing on the pedal. The--when, when you're doing this to a helicopter, you know, these are the controls. The nose goes off to one side, the nose goes way up and we're about to crash, except that I have enough sense to--pull on the power which then raises me up. It keeps me from hitting the ground at this odd angle. The man that's being pulled on board now slips back out, but luckily for him his leg straddled the skids, so he doesn't fall further. By the time we get him back on board we're now 60 feet in the air, and that was the end of the mission, far as I was--and of course, I let the crew know that I'd been hit, and my copilot got on the controls with me and--we got out of there. As it turned out, my wounds were superficial. You know, the shock of--of the initial hits were--were such that--it caused all that, all that difficulty. Like I said, 29 people were saved. The next morning--so I am told, I wasn't a witness to it--I am told that two people walked--two friendly troops walked out. They were not wounded. Somehow they had evaded the enemy. [NOISE IN BACKGROUND] All these people were Vietnamese--soldiers. I could not talk to them. And they could not talk to me because I didn't speak Vietnamese. Besides that, they had already thrown their--they had abandoned their weapons. You know, they'd been completely demoralized. They were--they--they had been surrounded for all that time. And--since there was no--they, they had a radio or maybe had two or three radios, I don't know--but there was no communication with them. It was all just by feel. [PAUSE] Happenstance. What--if, if I happened to go by them, th--and they were--they saw me, they would then stand up and--and--come on board, so to speak. They'd be yanked on board. Now, to give you an idea of the severity of their wounds, one man--I still remember him, that was actually running towards me--was holding his hand to his stomach. And the reason was he was partly eviscerated. And he survived. And I don't know h--what percentage of his intestines was--was out, but it was a-- [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] --a good part. But, like I said, he survived. Another man had his hand blown away that we yanked on board. A third had taken a--a round through the mouth, and if you know what, what that does to the face, it just looks like dog meat. They were all--in a very bad way. Everyone was wounded that were pulled out.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me about--the first time you heard you were going to be receiving the Medal of Honor. Where were you and who told you?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

The initial knowledge of it came from my son. [ ? ] that we--we had left this out, but the two of us were together, not on that mission--or--for which I received the Medal of Honor. He joined me later. And we'd been flying together as pilot and copilot and--kept that down to a minimum. You know, but the--there was a--a necessary amount of time that the two of us had to fly together because I was the training officer, and I trained him the same as I trained all the others. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] And--so, when I w--I went home in March and in April he wrote me a letter stating that I'd been recommended for the Medal of Honor. Now, this--it's a most unusual situation. I suppose I'm the only--man to receive the Medal of Honor who was informed initially by his son, who was a witness to--what was going on over there. In other words, I, I guess it was an agent of General Abrams [?] was up--was sent to the unit to investigate what I had done and take witness statements and so on to--whether or not the--everything that, that he--was reported to him was true. And apparently, it was, oh--and--[PAUSE] [NOISE IN BACKGROUND]

Unknown interviewer:

So then-- [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] [CUT, END SOUND ON SIDE A] CONTINUATION OF INTERVIEW WITH MIKE J. NOVOSEL, SR. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS]

Unknown interviewer:

Where did you receive the Medal of Honor?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

In--at the White House. Yeah. President Nixon. Yeah.

Unknown interviewer:

Who was there for the ceremony? [TELEPHONE RINGING] [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

The Medal was presented to me by President Nixon in June of 1971 which was--[PAUSE] not quite two years after the action. But the--the witnesses at that ceremony, of course, was the--my family, my son a--amongst them. And--I still remember General Davis, a recipient of the Medal of Honor himself from the Korean War, and he was--at that time he was the Co--Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. And he was one of the witnesses. And, of course, General Westmoreland, who was at that time the Army Chief of Staff, he was another witness. And there were other Medal of Honor recipients to re--to receive the award at the same time. You--one of the reasons why there was such a delay from October of--from the second of October of '69 to--June of '71 for the--for me to receive the Medal was the fact that my son had been overseas back in Tinnion [?] and the--they wanted him to be available when I received the Medal. So that--that caused a--a slight amount of delay. Needless to say, he--he was there when I received the Medal. Now, my son actually served with me in Vietnam, as I said, and--we flew a--a number of missions as--as pilot and copilot. And--in the course of our duties we both performed the same type of--of missions, dustoff missions, saving lives and extracting the wounded and so on. He and his aircraft commander were work--on this one day were--[PAUSE] e--evacuating--were evacuating the wounded from their section in Vietnam, and I was in another section which was about 15 miles' distance off--in a different section. But we were working together with different units, which was nothing uncommon. W--[LAUGHS] there was so much--so much enemy activity that--two aircraft at the same time being--being involved in pickups was no unusual. Being that we--we knew where each other's--where we were, we kept in constant communication with one another on our secondary frequency. So we--we were talking back and forth knowing what we were doing. There were--in--after a while, why--his aircraft commander, and I heard him come up with a may day--may day, may day, we've been hit, we're going down. And, of course, now--I know that--that my son, my Junior is on board, and naturally I'm worried as to what happened. And--they'd been hit where they were--their hydraulics had been shot away. They were losing fuel because they had--taken many hits in the--fuel ce--in the fuel cell. And--I know that I told Rex, the aircraft commander, I said try to get to a safe area which meant some area that's fortified, or that he thought was fortified. And he said that he saw a village up ahead, that he would try to make it. And then--then he told me that his hydraulics had been fired--shot away, which is a--it's not a--a--a deadly situation but it's a ticklish situation. It takes the strength of two damned gorillas to control this bird with the hydraulics gone. And so he and Mike, Jr. were fighting this thing to keep it under control. And they finally made it down to a safe area. And, of course, I told them I'd be right down to pick 'em up, which--I did. [OVERTALK]

Unknown interviewer:

Yes.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And--

Unknown interviewer:

Did you have to ask permission to do that?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

No! You don't have--you don't ask anybody anything. [LAUGHS] We ne--we never asked anybody for permission to a--to do--do anything. If, if we did anything that was not proper, we just didn't tell anybody.

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

[LAUGHS] That--that was our secret. But--what--you have to remember now--[PAUSE] that the--it's, this--first of all, this is an unusual situation of the father is rescuing the son from a--from a situation where he's been shot down. And--I let them know that I was--a little bit displeased that the--at that I had to take time to--from my work to go help them out, you know. And I said you owe me a beer. Well, or--a couple of drinks, and--at the officers club which they paid. But I got to go back and tell you that when my son first arrived in country and everybody is--in the unit is there to see this reunion of father and son, and he comes up in--in a very--non-military manner and he says hello Dad, and I said no, it's not the right thing. That's--I'm his superior, he's not supposed to do that, hello Dad. So I told him around here I'm not your father, you know. Go--let's go over and talk about this. Well, that was a statement that he--he apparently never forgot. And he came back at me because seven days after I saved them that's when I got shot down. And--[PAUSE] who comes to rescue me is--my son.

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And--I was not pleased at the manner in which they performed because they made me--whenever I saved them or rescued them I landed right next to 'em. They didn't have to walk--walk hardly any distance. But when they came to pick me up, they landed their helicopter a hundred yards away, and I had to negotiate a hundred yards of rice paddy that was up to three feet deep, a chore in itself. So I was a little bit displeased. And I told the--aircraft commander, Rex Smith I was--showing my displeasure and I wasn't getting any sympathy from him. So then I leaned into my son, I says--and that's a heck of a way to treat your father. He said don't forget, around here you're not my dad. [LAUGHS] So that was it. That's how--that's how come we saved one another, rescued one another--a--[PAUSE]

Unknown interviewer:

That's great.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Again, that--it's the only time that that happened. And you have to remember that just the fact that the two of us were together in this one small unit of 12 pilots, six aircraft, that's the first time that father and son were ever assigned to a--to a unit at the same time. We represented one-sixth of the force. Two of the 12 were father and son. And--as I said, it, it--it had never been done in warfare before, and then certainly--the a--the fact that we--rescued one another, that in itself is another first, if you will, with--that and--that could never have happened in the past.

Unknown interviewer:

Were you--were you proud of the job you were doing? [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Oh yeah. Oh, it was a most--that was the most rewarding--assignment that I could ever recall in--in the wars that I, that I was engaged in. World War II was a necessary war. We had to win it. I don't know if you ever thought of it that way. We had to win that war. If we'd have lost that, goodness knows what would have--what would have happened to American capitalism, to American constitutional government. Who would have won? Authoritarian type of government would have won. It wouldn't matter if it was Japanese, or German, or Italian.

Unknown interviewer:

Mmm--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

It was either fascist [?], Nazis--or disciples of the emperor. You--you had no choice. Your--your lifestyle would have been completely different. A lot of people never thought about that. But we--in the war, we knew we had to win that war. And--

Unknown interviewer:

But you were proud of what you did in Vietnam.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Oh yeah. Here, unfortunately, that was a war that--I was--I thought, you might say, on my first tour especially, I--I--I, I thought that we--we had to be there. By the time the second war came around, I--[PAUSE] I, I suppose I and--most of my other friends had--had--[PAUSE] other ideas. We--we saw the--the folly of our involvement, and I think--most people would give a proper assessment that it would have been better for us had we never been involved. [PAUSE] We certainly would have saved 68,000 lives. If the war had been justified, if the war had been necessary for our en--for our continuation as a--as a sovereign nation, if--if the war had possessed a--threat to our way of life, we'd have--we'd have been there still. We would have won. But apparently even--even the leadership saw that hey, we--we'd better break--break this off. We--we've got a tar baby here. I don't know if you re--recognize the symbolism.

Unknown interviewer:

Mmm-mmm (AFFIRMATIVE).

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Well--[PAUSE] that's what it was, it was our tar baby. Unfortunately. So-- But I was proud of my contribution, and my son. So--

Unknown interviewer:

Would you--do it over again if your country asked you to?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Oh yeah. Yeah, I'd have to. Yeah. My--the, the motivation that caused me to--to go there in the first place which I didn't have to--you know, it--[PAUSE] I, I didn't--I didn--I didn't need a job. I had a job. [LAUGHS] I was an airline pilot. And I gave up a lot to--to do that. I gave up a rank.

Unknown interviewer:

And you-- [OVERTALK]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Forever, I lost my--commission. You--you know, most people start off as warrant officers that ended up--r--retiring as a lieutenant colonels or colonels. I started off as a lieutenant colonel, nine years in grade, ended up as a warrant officer. And that's what I retired as. And, like I said, it's a very convoluted story in how all this happened, but--the--that, that's just the way it happened. And--but I have no regrets, none whatsoever.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me about the Medal. When you--when you--came--what does the Medal mean to you?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Well, first of all, it was most unexpected. I'm serious about that. I never--[PAUSE] I did not volunteer--for the Vietnam War to go to battle. I was 42 years old. I knew how to fly. I knew how to fly everything that flew. And I wanted to instruct, to show the young people how to exist, how to live, how to do their job in what I call a high risk environment. When--when I ended up in the Army, why they didn't see it that way. They sent me to work just like anybody else. And--if at sometime the--the--an instructor's job would--would creep up and I got into that, well that would--that would be okay too, but--they needed me elsewhere.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me what the Medal means to you.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

The--the g--the g--receiving of the Medal, like I said, was most unexpected. [PAUSE] And I recognize the responsibility that I share with the other Medal of Honor recipients--to display--a proper attitude, an appreciation for life, an appreciation for our country. Certainly--what my country has done for me--it d--it has done a lot for me--that I never expected. If, if I am anything in this world, I owe it to my country. They gave me my education, they gave me my opportunity at life. They gave me opportunity to serve. A lot of people don't look at the--at the idea of a opportunity to serve your country. I was able to volunteer three different times. I was never drafted. And--[PAUSE] what I am, I--I am--good or bad, I'm a product of my country. And--that's it. And I, I appreciate that. Whatever opportunities that they have--thrown in--thrown in, in my path, and there have been several, I certainly can be proud to say that I have never used my position for self aggrandizement. I've n--I don't--I've never tried to--force my way onto anybody. And I certainly have never sought--sought public office and--and--[PAUSE] flaunted the--the--for that purpose that--that--that's not my nature. I just--I just couldn't do that.

Unknown interviewer:

How did--how has the Medal changed your life?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Well, it's--it's changed me a lot. Like I said, it--it's--inspired me to--to use the Medal for good, rather than--rather than for--self reward. I don't--it's opened up many--doors for me not of--not necessarily of opportunity but that allowed me to see the world, to see friends, to know friends, to know famous people.

Unknown interviewer:

How would you rank--in, in your lifetime, the milestones in your lifetime, how would you rank receiving the Medal?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

I would have to--that would have to be--[PAUSE] next to marrying my wife. I'd have to put her first. [LAUGHS] The, the Medal--after, after her, the Medal is inconsequential. So--[PAUSE] During the j--you know, doing a, a job--that me and my son had--I've forgotten how many people he extricated, well over 2500. But I had the p--I had the privilege of--of evacuating 5589 wounded people, in two years, two different tours of duty. And--just that opportunity alone--leaves you with a--a--[PAUSE] a sense of--awe, so to speak, self-inspired awe. How the heck could I have done it? I never thought about it.And I never kept records. I don't--I never would have know that I--evacuated that many, except that the system that we had--the--the people kept, kept records on us. And when my time was up, that's what they told me. They told me exactly how many missions I flew. They told me exactly how many hours I flew. At any one time if you'd have asked me well, how long you've--how long have you been doing it, I'd have to--count on my fingers. [OVERTALK] And these are things that--that's--you might say slide by you. I might add--the system did not record two dogs that I evacuated. And to--to me they were--those were just as important as [LAUGHS]--as the men. [LAUGHTER] You know, they--they were necessary for our existence in Vietnam. And both--the one I still remember, the one dog, I--was a night pickup which was very dangerous 'cause you had to use your lights and so on; they enemy could see you and they could hear you. And I didn't know it was a dog until we--actually--landed, and they put the wounded on board. And then my medic said it's a damned dog!

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And I said, well he's important, let's get out of here.

Unknown interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

And he was--that dog was hit three different times. [OVERTALK]

Unknown interviewer:

Wow-

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

He had three bull--30--30 caliber or its equivalent in Vietnamese ammo, that he had taken. And he survived. Evidently, he--I hope he went back--[LAUGHS] back to get the Vietcong that shot him! [LAUGHING] [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] So--

Unknown interviewer:

That's great. Tell me what you hope the country learns and knows about the Medal of Honor.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

I don't know if they have to know anything about the Medal of Honor, just the fact that it's--the--the highest award that, that--that the country can give you for that type of endeavor. [PAUSE] There are other things that--that I think are just as important. [PAUSE] This is important for a military man. It certainly is important for a military man seeking his career--or seeking to--get--help him along with his career. I'm happy to say that that wasn't my case. I didn't have to worry about that. [LAUGHS] My c--my career was shot. [LAUGHS] But-- [OVERTALK]

Unknown interviewer:

Your career was shot--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

--I, I think--I think that everybody should be aware that it at least shows that a man is doing--the best he knows how. You have to remember that there's a lot that went into--my receiving the Medal. [PAUSE] Thirty something years of flying. And thirty something years of--of endeavor by people who were associated with me, to--those who--people who taught me how to fly, those people who nurtured me, who s--who mentored me when I was a young s--second lieutenant, when I was a young first lieutenant, a young captain. Many of the--the colonels that I worked for, and that you might say--I looked up to, I admired because they were--they, they showed me what a good officer is supposed to do. All this comes together. You don't think about this, but you know that's a part of your life. I remember my--my very simple items in training, when I was a cadet. An officer has a sense of humor. An officer never haggles. An officer's word is his bond. And that was the one that really stuck with me, something I wish that--that American society would--would, would recall, that a man's word is sacred. And we've forgotten that, unfortunately. And it's--and I think you know what I'm talking about. If we had all operated the way a cadet did, that simple 75-dollar-a-month cadet will not lie, will not cheat, will--will not steal. And an officer's word--a gentleman's word is his bond. We'd have had no Enrons, we'd have had no Worldcoms, and we'd have had none of this--silliness that's going on right now. And I'm sorry to say that--[PAUSE] I'm one of the few who disagrees with the way we're operating--in the aftermath of this--tragedy, if you will. We're not--I don't think we're--[PAUSE] we're up to our potential. Too many--are--are actually cowering for--in fear. We should be standing tall. I u--hate to use the expression stick your tongue out at the--at the al Qaeda. Instead we're--we're imposing restrictions on our freedom. This is what they wanted. The airlines certainly has slow--has slowed up. Business has slowed up. And what--what do we talk about--American business is business. And if we can't function the way we--we ordinarily are expected to in a free society, in a capitalistic society, capitalism is--is passing us by. We're not--we're not able to function as good capitalists, as good entrepreneurs. And I think it's a result of--of--[PAUSE] of our attitude. We--we could certainly change it. We--we do not have to have--all the restrictions to our freedom, and all the restrictions to our travel, and all the restrictions to our business. It has slowed us down. And the--and the danger to this country is not bin Laden or his likes. The danger to this country is--a slowing down of our economy 'til we're--it could come down to a standstill. As a witness to the Great Depression, I can visualize how that could happen. Those who--those of us who lived prior to the Great Depression never expected the Great Depression.

Unknown interviewer:

So you're saying--our, our leaders should lead us out of this.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

I think they should make us stand tall. I, I refuse to knuckle down to 'em, to--to what, what they have imposed on me. I took a flight--with, well, within the--one week after--after the--[PAUSE] attack on, on our--9/11. I took a flight to Dallas. I was not, and I've been flying ever since. I just got back from--[PAUSE] the Air Force Academy last week. [OVERTALK] I've been to--since that time I've been to Korea, I've been to Europe. I intend to go up to--in two weeks I'm flying up to--Niagara Falls. They--they are not going to slow me up. And I wish the rest of the country would feel that way. So-- [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] I'm, I'm--like I said, I'm sorry about that. I know that--I'm not speaking now--from the way the rest of the country does, especially the way the Administration is, which--I'm certainly not accusing--anybody of anything. But I think--it would be--to me, to my estimation, it'd be better if--if we changed our attitude.

Unknown interviewer:

I agree with you.

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yeah.

Unknown interviewer:

A hundred percent. Thinking back now, on--on your tours of duty, do you think it was worth it?

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

What I did? [PAUSE] If I've eased the--the pain of--any one of those number, and--if I've saved lives which I know that I have, and I've met some of those people--[PAUSE] I've met Tom Galvin [?], a young second lieutenant who I had the privilege of evacuating in my first tour. He was struck with 18 major wounds. He was not expected to live. The reason for his wounds was that he was next to a Vietcong who--set off a hand grenade to kill them both. Tom Galvin lived, wasn't expected to, was able to go back to Vietnam three years later. I didn't know Tom Galvin by name until I wrote my book. And he saw what I wrote about and realized that I'm the one who--picked him up. And when the two of us rehashed the--those experience, yeah, I was the one who picked him up. And I still remember the email that he sent me saying that--my being here is maybe to your credit, referring to me and the day and the, and the coordinates of the pickup site that--that I wrote about. And, of course, then we--we met here in New Orleans at the--at the reunion of his--1st Division, and I was invited over there to see him and others in--that were in that same battle. And to me--a statement such as his--the email that he sent me is worth more than--well, let's put it this way--the medal has yet to be struck that will equal a letter--of appreciation or--or the words that he has for me and others who did my--our type work.

Unknown interviewer:

Great--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

For his life I'd give my medal. [PAUSE] And--knowing him, I think he--he would do the same for me. So-- Medals aren't--aren't that important. And it--you know, like I said, if--[PAUSE] if you're inclined to a military life, that--that's--and, and if you're young enough to receive it, why that's a bit impetus to--and a big assist. But--just the medals themselves, hell, if you want medals, go to the PX. You can buy some over there. You know.

Unknown interviewer:

Well thank you very much--

Michael J. Novosel, Sr.:

Yeah--

Unknown interviewer:

--for taking the time. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] [CUT, END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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