By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMay 14, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- When visiting the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, the aircraft on display aren't the only ones with stories to tell.
Edward Gilmore, retired aviator, works as a volunteer at the museum greeting people and answering any questions they may have about the museum. And although the museum tells the story of Aviation history, Gilmore can say that he is one aviator who lived it.
Gilmore was born in Peoria, Illinois, during a time when Army Aviation was still in its infancy. He joined the National Guard while still attending high school in 1948 at just 15 years old, and was called to active duty in November of 1951.
Shortly after, he attended Ranger school, and upon graduating from the school was in line for a promotion, he said. "When I graduated, they had an opening in my unit for a sergeant and they promoted me, so here I was, a sergeant at 19 years old.
Early in his Army career, although having been promoted through the ranks relatively quickly, Gilmore said he started to focus on getting involved in education with Soldiers.
"A number of these Soldiers (at the time) had really very little education because they'd get up through elementary school and get to about eighth grade, quit and join the Army for World War II," he said. "From that point on, all through my career, I got really involved with the education of my Soldiers.
"A couple of my guys went from getting GEDs all the way up to their doctorate degrees," he said. "It also allowed me to work my education up and I went through and got my master's degree in guidance and counseling."
While he was focused on education, he was also changing direction in his military career, and in 1953 Gilmore said he made the decision to go Airborne and soon after became a warrant officer. He came to flight school at then-Camp Rucker and finished his initial training, then went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he qualified in the Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw helicopter by 1955.
From there his career would take him all over the world, from across the U.S. to Germany and eventually to the war in Vietnam.
But before he took his tours in Vietnam, he worked for the Transportation Aviation Test Support Activity on Fort Rucker, where he was able to test new and emerging technologies being added to aircraft.
One particular piece of technology that Gilmore said stands out in his memory is the ALQ 144 radar jammer, which was a new technology at the time and is still in use in many aircraft today.
"They were just getting started with it and I got involved with the original models, so I would go back and forth with the manufacturers if they had improvements with the different models," he said. "We took it down to Panama and tested it in the rainy conditions and everything."
During their tests, Gilmore said they noticed that as time went on, the jammers became less and less efficient. As it turns out, insects were finding their way inside the unit and building nests, causing it to malfunction.
"Those are things you'd never think of without that testing -- that's why you did those tests," he said.
Eventually, he started his tour in Vietnam in 1961. His unit sailed to Subic Bay in the Philippines, where he would fly the H-21 from the U.S.S. Princeton into Da Nang, Vietnam.
"We'd launch five at a time, along with two H-13s that were the last to launch with us, and all this time while we're flying in, A-1 Skyraiders were flying right alongside us," said the retired aviator.
While there, Gilmore said their primary mission was to work with South Vietnamese soldiers to teach them how to work and integrate with a helicopter.
In addition to training, his unit would also assist in resupplying outfits throughout the country.
"As I recall, our first mission there had been to really resupply the special forces outfit there -- we were really the first ones in a month to resupply them," he said. "We would carry those supplies in, carry some of the old stuff out and even take some of the sick people out -- that was our first flight."
Gilmore said that they continued that mission just about every week, and if it weren't for their helicopters, the only way to resupply those troops would be to take in an entire battalion of troops to defend the supply lines by road.
"With us, we could fly supplies in and carry the troops out, and we could switch them all out in one day," he said.
After his first tour of duty in Vietnam, Gilmore returned back to the U.S. and served as a backup instructor for the OV-1 Mohawk before returning to the war in 1966, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division.
During his second tour, he was transferred to a maintenance support team where the primary mission was to provide field maintenance, but he also assisted in resupply missions again.
After his final tour in Vietnam, his career took him all around the world, including to Korea in 1979 as the Aviation assignments officer for the 2nd Infantry Division.
He officially retired Dec. 31, 1981, with 34 years, eight months of service, as a chief warrant officer 4, the highest warrant officer rank attainable at the time, with more than 10,100 flight hours.
After military life, he went on to work as a contractor for 12 years, working once again with the TATSA before retiring completely from the workforce.
It wasn't long after getting out of the workforce that he found his way to the U.S. Army Aviation Museum in 1997 to become a volunteer.
"After I retired, I felt like I had to have something to do, so I came here and volunteered," said retired aviator. "I enjoy meeting the people and I feel like I've got something to offer, and I'm out of the wife's hair for a day, and I'm sure she appreciates that."
Gilmore and his wife, Claire, have shared nearly 65 years of marriage, and he says that without her, his military life would have been completely different.
"It takes a special person to be a military (spouse)," he said. "Claire came right in out of high school, and she and I went through this together. We raised our children, put three through college, and Claire was the teacher at home most of the time. She is the kingpin as far as I'm concerned, and I treat her that way."
Gilmore will celebrate his 86th birthday next year, but doesn't see himself giving up his time volunteering any time soon.
"As long as I'm healthy and as long as they'll have me, I'll be here," he said.