Army Renames Aviation Installation After Medal of Honor Recipient

Mike Novosel receives a street sign named after him.
Mike Novosel receives the first street sign named after him from Maj. Gen. Bobby Maddox, then-Fort Rucker commanding general. (Army photo)

Fort Rucker, the Army's aviation post located in Dale County, Alabama, is set to be renamed Fort Novosel on Monday, according to the service. The new name honors Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Novosel Sr., a Medal of Honor recipient who flew unguarded medical evacuation missions into heavily fortified enemy territory in Vietnam 15 times, saving the lives of 29 men.

Between two tours in Vietnam, Novosel is credited with flying 2,543 extraction missions, rescuing more than 5,500 troops in one of the most dangerous jobs during the war -- medevac pilot -- a position that, according to the Army, left one-third of those who accepted the assignment as casualties themselves.

The new designation of the Army post is part of the Pentagon-wide push to rename bases that previously honored the Confederacy. Fort Rucker was named for Confederate officer Edmund Rucker, once a cavalry commander under Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest went on to help found the Klu Klux Klan after the Civil War.

Read Next: 'Noble Act of Service': Soldier Stops Domestic Violence Assault Outside of Army Recruiting Office

The post is one of nine Army installations being renamed under the Defense Department's Naming Commission.

As detailed in the Naming Commission's final report, Rucker served as a conscription officer for the Confederacy and "forced Americans who wanted no part in the conflict to take up arms against the United States or risk harsh retribution."

Service leaders hailed Novosel as the "perfect choice" for a new name.

"Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Novosel Sr. epitomizes what an Army aviation soldier should be," said Maj. Gen. Michael C. McCurry, the post's commanding general. "His legacy of courage under fire in support of soldiers on the ground is what we train for and expect of our soldiers.

"It is an honor for the Home of Army aviation to bear his name," he added.

In 1941, Novosel joined the military at 18, but there was a problem. At 5'3", he was one-eighth inch too short to join the service. He passed all of the other flight requirements, according to the Army, and came to face the flight surgeon, a final and potentially career-ending authority.

"The doctor told him to stand, looked him over and asked his age," an Army press release read. "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."

Novosel served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, where he not only flew combat missions as a B-29 aircraft commander, but also learned how to drive a car for the first time -- a Jeep, the Army said. Novosel served in combat during the Korean War, as well.

At the dawn of the Vietnam War, Novosel was a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. When the war kicked off, he volunteered for active duty, resigned his commission and joined the Army as a helicopter pilot.

It was here that Novosel's legend would be cemented in aviation legend for decades to come.

On Oct. 2, 1969, Novosel was notified of a unit of pinned-down South Vietnamese soldiers in Kien Tuong Province. Because of the urgency of the mission, Novosel forwent his gunship accompaniment, opting to fly his lightly armored medevac helicopter into heavy enemy fire.

He repeatedly exposed his aircraft to draw enemy fire away from the pinned troops, with rounds peppering his helicopter, disabling speed gauges, and hitting his rotors and radios.

"Other problems also exacerbated the situation: Since the troops on the ground did not speak English and were unable to communicate by radio," a press release said, "Novosel had to fly low and circle as he searched for them by eye, further exposing himself to fire."

Novosel was wounded himself during the operation.

On half a dozen occasions, enemy fire caused Novosel to withdraw. Each time, he returned to the battlefield to save those on the ground.

"Eighteen hours had passed since he started the day," the Army said. "Novosel was 47 years old. His aircraft was damaged and his body was battered, but he had saved 29 men."

After receiving the Medal of Honor in 1971, Novosel continued to serve until 1984. He was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1975 and, before the turn of the millennium, he published an autobiography "Dustoff: The Memoir of an Army Aviator."

Novosel died in April 2006 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: Here's When Army Bases Honoring the Confederacy Will Shed Their Old Names

Story Continues