Fort Rucker Soldiers remember Aviation hero
December 18, 2009
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- An Army Aviation hero, whose father's name adorns a main street on Fort Rucker, passed away Dec. 10 in Florida.
Retired CW4 Michael J. Novosel Jr., a UH-1 Huey pilot and son of the late Medal of Honor recipient retired CW4 Michael J. Novosel Sr., succumbed to cancer less than a month after he was diagnosed with it. He was 60.
As a second-generation pilot, Novosel Jr. received his Aviator wings Dec. 15, 1969, more than two decades after his father. The two flew Hueys as the only father-son team serving in the same combat unit. The pair was credited with saving thousands of Soldiers while fighting in Vietnam.
U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Kelly J. Thomas presented Novosel Jr.'s wife of 37 years, Margaret, a folded U.S. flag during the brief ceremony in Pensacola.
During a funeral service held earlier that day at Emerald Coast Funeral Home in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Thomas recalled a proverbial saying he said memorialized Novosel Jr.
"It's said in the Bible, 'Good men will die, but death cannot kill their names,'" Thomas said.
He noted Novosel Jr.'s 22 years of active-duty service provides inspiration to Aviators and ensures the pilot's legacy will not be forgotten.
"Think of the lives he touched in duty, on duty, in uniform, in combat, and I can tell you, rest assured, generations to follow want to be like Mike Novosel," Thomas said. "What Mike brought on the battlefield to the wounded was amazing, but what he brought in life to the living was just as amazing."
According to those close to him, Novosel Jr. touched more than just fellow pilots. He was well-known for his work with the Michael J. Novosel Foundation, a charity organization aiding wounded warriors.
Foundation director George Metz recalled memories of his friend during the funeral service.
"Mike was very dependable and a very strong person," he said. "He spoke his mind. He was a brother."
Metz said Novosel Jr. wanted nothing more than to care for fellow Soldiers, and said he will continue his friend's legacy through the organization they co-founded.
Fellow pilot CW4 Larry Castagneto reminisced about his 40-year friendship with Novosel Jr., known by the call sign "Dustoff 88." He said the Army Aviation community lost a hero last week and echoed Metz's sentiments about Novosel Jr.'s generosity.
"Even in the end, Mike was still rescuing our Soldiers through the Michael J. Novosel Foundation. Mike was still going into that LZ (landing zone) pulling out Soldiers," Castagneto said. "Army Aviation has lost a good friend."
Novosel Jr. not only touched those he shared the skies with but also fledgling pilots. WO1 Jeff Bessemer, B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, led fellow student pilots as they folded the American flag at the grave site, and said Novosel Jr.'s legacy motivates him to excel in his training.
"It's a good opportunity to look at the people who came before you," Bessemer said. "It gives flight students something to strive for."
During a brief ceremony the day before Novosel Jr.'s death, USAACE and Fort Rucker Commander Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III presented him a Medal of Honor flag at his Shalimar, Fla., home, in honor of his late father. The younger Novosel also unveiled a bust honoring his dad in October at the Fort Rucker headquarters building.
Novosel Jr. is survived by his wife; daughter, Wendy Latchum, of Shalimar; sisters Patricia Clevinger, of Enterprise, and Jeannee Vinyard, of Phoenix, Fla.; and brother John Novosel, of Auburn.