Perfect Choice: Post’s namesake ‘the epitome of Army Aviation’

By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsMarch 31, 2023

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2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The CW4 Michael J. Novosel Sr. display in the U.S. Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker. The home of Army Aviation will be redesignated Fort Novosel April 10. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL
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Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series on CW4 Michael J. Novosel Sr., who will become the Home of Army Aviation’s namesake when it is redesignated April 10. Parts two and three are also available on

FORT RUCKER, Ala. — When it came time to pick a new name for the Home of Army Aviation, it soon became clear that there was as close to a perfect choice as anyone could have hoped for.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Novosel Sr. is the epitome of Army Aviation, according to Billy Croslow, Aviation Branch historian.

He was also the perfect choice to be honored as the namesake of the post, especially when considering his commitment to the nation, to his fellow servicemembers, to the Army Aviation mission, to his family and to the Wiregrass community he eventually called home, Croslow said.

“I saw some of the naming commission process here and attended the town hall meetings when they released the short list with 10 names on it,” the historian said. “When they asked the community’s opinion, (almost everyone said) Michael Novosel.

“It was interesting to hear — the various stakeholders, including local mayors, all (supported the change to) Novosel — this is the person we want,” he added. “There were representatives from religious organizations, representatives from various unions — folks with a real interest in the Wiregrass area. The people living here felt that this institution is so central to their identity that if the military is going to redesignate it, redesignating it like this is the best way to do it.”

But to understand why Novosel is considered the perfect choice by so many, it helps to know a little about his beginnings, and his military career that spanned two services and three wars.

Born to Croatian immigrants in Etna, Pennsylvania, in 1922, Novosel didn’t start learning English until he began school.

“He often says in his interviews that is part of why he wanted to serve — to pay back to a country that was so welcoming to his family and welcoming to him,” Croslow said. “He said that ‘Everything that I am I am because of my country. I owe my country all of this — every bit of education, every opportunity, everything I have I managed to do is because of this country. My service is an attempt to repay that.’ That is all that he ever categorized it as.”

Novosel’s path to the skies began at age 18 when he volunteered to join the U.S. Army Air Corps in February 1941. While his goal was to fix and fly aircraft, he wrote in “Dustoff: The Memoir of an Army Aviator,” that the Army had other plans for him, and he became the chief pay clerk in his unit.

While doing administrative work, he read up on the Air Corps cadet program, and a friend and fellow Soldier pushed for them both to join. However, Novosel wrote, there was another obstacle to his taking to the skies — his height.

Of course, he wrote, his barracks mates went right to work after learning of his dilemma in figuring out how to get him that extra eighth of an inch he needed to meet the requirement of 5-feet, 4-inches the Army required. There was no shortage of ideas on how to help him grow, including extra vitamins, laying flat as long as possible before the measurement and even procuring a truck to take him right up to the dispensary so he could make the short trip in the supine position stretched out on a board.

But to the severe disappointment of Novosel and his fellow Soldiers, the hard work and extensive planning didn’t pay off — he was measured by the medical technician at 5’3” and 7/8s of an inch, he continued. And the tech wasn’t about to fudge that last little bit on the form.

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CW4 Mike Novosel receives the first street sign named after him from Maj. Gen. Bobby Maddox, then-Fort Rucker commanding general. (Photo Credit: Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

After passing the rest of the tests with flying colors, Novosel found himself in front of the flight surgeon who was the last stop and “the ultimate pass-fail authority,” he wrote.

After being asked his height, Novosel replied that he felt the tech had made a mistake on his measurement because his fellow Soldiers had measured him at 5’4”. The doctor told him to stand, looked him over and asked his age. After his answer of 18, the doctor made a decision that would reverberate through Army Aviation for decades to come, and responded with “Will you promise me you’ll grow another eighth of an inch?” and signed off on the paperwork after an affirmative response.

Shortly thereafter came the date that will live in infamy, and Novosel and his friend were sent on the fast track to Kelly Field in Texas for flight school as the nation went to war, he recalled.

A few days after completing pre-flight at Kelly, Novosel wrote that he saw his first Army Air Forces pilot and also got his first aviation safety lesson.

He wrote that the captain looked sharp in his pinks and greens, but he soon noticed that the pilot had just one arm. Shortly after meeting him, Novosel learned that the captain, in a moment of distraction and inattention, had wandered into the path of a spinning propeller and had his arm severed at the shoulder. “I never learned that captain’s name, but I never forgot his lesson.”

Flying was still dangerous in 1942, Novosel wrote, then recounted his early troubles with mechanical failure of aircraft and the fact that four of his classmates perished during training. But this was “an adventure that would be my life.”

He finished flight training in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was told when he entered the program “that it was the most demanding course of instruction conceived by man and that most would not make it. But I had. It was the fulfillment of all my boyhood dreams and I could not have been happier.

“I was anxious to join the fighting: I knew I could be the next ace if only given the chance. I was looking forward to an assignment with a pursuit squadron because all of my training was directed toward that end,” he continued.

But again, the Army had different plans. He was assigned to Laredo Army Airfield, Texas, as an instructor. He wrote that his time at Laredo “was the best thing that ever happened to me; it turned out to be my maturing period as an Army Air Forces pilot. I gained excellent flight experience and logged plenty of flight time.”

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(Photo Credit: Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

While instructing at Laredo in the B-24, he volunteered for the B-29 program — the country’s most advanced bomber aircraft — in 1944 and moved to Maxwell Army Air Field, Alabama. In 1945, he headed for the Pacific theater — and combat.

He flew four combat missions and also flew in the massive formation over the USS Missouri during the surrender of the Empire of Japan. He flew further missions dropping supplies to American prisoners in the immediate aftermath of the war.

He spent the rest of 1945 in Okinawa flying throughout the theater and also learning to drive an automobile for the first time — in an Army Jeep, no less. Having enlisted in the Army Air Corps at 18, he never had time to learn.

“Here I was, a B-29 aircraft commander; a squadron commander at that. I’d flown five different trainers, three pursuits, four transports and four bombers. But I couldn’t drive a simple automobile. I was embarrassed,” Novosel wrote. He then proceeded to get his first traffic ticket in Manilla rushing back to post to beat curfew after his unit moved to the Philippines shortly thereafter.

After being restationed in Okinawa and transitioning into the Air Force, Novosel returned stateside in October 1947. He married his childhood sweetheart, Ethel, shortly thereafter before moving on to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

He ended up getting caught up in a reduction in force in 1950, opened a restaurant in Fort Walton, Florida, after leaving the service, and then voluntarily re-entered active duty in 1951 during the Korean War. After the war, he signed up with the Air Force Reserve and received a promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1955.

He worked as a commercial airline pilot, but in 1963, shortly after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he decided to take the president’s challenge of his asking what he could do for his country.

He felt that what he could do was share his knowledge with and train up new, young and up-and-coming military aviators to help them in their efforts in Vietnam, which the country was getting more and more involved in.

But the Air Force didn’t want him — the service had more than enough lieutenant colonels already. So, he thought about the Army, and the Army said, “Yes!” But his training pilots and that rank of lieutenant colonel of his weren’t in the Army’s plans.

Part 1: Perfect Choice: Post’s namesake ‘the epitome of Army Aviation’

Part 2: Perfect Choice — Part 2: Post’s namesake ‘the epitome of Army Aviation’

Part 3: Perfect Choice — Part 3: Post’s namesake ‘the epitome of Army Aviation’ - CW4 Michael J. Novosel Sr.