Veteran Salute: Army Major flies in Vietnam and beyond

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A retired Army Major said when he got to flight school, there were 150 guys, and in the end, only about 10 survived.

When an officer asked him about Vietnam, he says he was a young high school kid and had no idea what was going on over there.

“I’d heard of it, sure, you know it was on the news, but I didn’t know anything about it,” Retired Army Major Steve Ochsner said.

Ochsner said when he signed up you didn’t really have a choice on service, since the draft was going on.

He said he wanted to go to college, but had no money so he got a Navy scholarship.

He said they would go on summer cruises, and one was aboard the USS Ranger, and that’s where he fell in love with flying!

“These are Army units that I was assigned to,” Ochsner said.

The pilot still has his flight jacket.

“I sewed various patches, and stuff on it, from different units I have been in,” Ochsner said.

His father served in WWII, as a machinists mate.

His Grandpa served in WWI, as an aircraft mechanic.

“He worked on Army aircraft, it was Army Air Corp then,” Ochsner said.

His father’s dog tags still hang from a rack that holds the Japanese rifle his father brought back.

Ochsner has also held on to his helmet and gloves, and many others things, all these years.

“I just kept most of mine,” Ochsner said.

His father also carved an exact mach up of a helicopter he once flew.

“I mean he put such precision into all his work,” Ochsner said.

He said his father was thrilled when he signed up with the Navy.

“He was ecstatic about the whole thing,” Ochsner said. “The proudest day of his life, maybe.”

He said he was then lucky enough to get into flight school.

“Just being able to go and do,” Ochsner said.

He said it was a given when you graduated flight school, especially as a helicopter pilot, that you were headed to Vietnam.

“Everybody was really pumped to go, and you couldn’t wait to go,” Ochsner said. “You are working as a team all the time and that sense of comradery, and the sense of mission.”

Ochsner flew a helicopter, a Kaman SH-2 Seasprite, that was also called some not-so-friendly nicknames, such as the Kaman Coffin and Widow Maker.

“If you are a helicopter in a place like the Gulf of Tonkin, where all those boats and all floating around, you are everything from the postal service, to the parts deliverer, Fed Ex, you are all of them at once,” Ochsner said.

He said many of their missions were far from friendly.

“It is a good thing I wasn’t born a cat, because cats only have nine lives,” Ochsner said. “I would have run out of lives!”

Once he got out of the Navy, he continued to take flight, with a Chinook unit as their maintenance pilot.

He was also still in the Reserves, at the time.

“One day I get a phone call from the department of the Army and they said, ‘hey we need you back on active duty,’ and so off we went,” Ochsner said.

He said the Army was starting a new program.

“They grabbed me up and put me in there and next thing you know I have about a dozen Warrant Officers working for me and we were going all over the world giving check rides,” Ochsner said.

He said he also worked with the Comanche Program.

“I was kind of put in charge, with recruiting guys from all over the Army, to be part of that first unit,” Ochsner said.

He said their job was to develop the manual for the program.

“Here are pictures of what it would have looked like, had it ever flown and stuff like that,” Ochsner said.

During his career, Ochsner graced the skies so many times.

“This was our crew at Boeing, our test flight crew at Boeing,” Ochsner said.

He said he’s thankful his many experiences allowed him to see the world.

“These are various medals,” Ochsner said.

The combat pilot earned many medals and honors over the years, and he’s most proud of these Army Master Wings, carved by his father.

“It means you are the top classification of aviators, with the most flight experience, the most certifications, the most qualifications stuff like that,” Ochsner said.

Ochsner also has Navy Aviator Gold Wings.

He explained in the Army you progress, and he said typically people don’t fly enough in multiple branches to achieve the Army Master Wings, but since he already had his Navy wings, he was able to achieve that.

He said he is probably one of about a half of dozen people, who are authorized to wear both.

Perhaps even when he was still a child, Ochsner knew someday he would take flight, as there is a picture from his childhood, wearing his Grandpa’s uniform from WWI.

He said his mission was always to make those who served before him proud.

Ochsner said he speaks to students often, and even wears his flight suit.

He said they were treated so poorly when they returned from Vietnam, it is important for him to continue to share what they endured.

He said he wants others to realize, their sacrifices in the Jungle, and many contributions to society, since.

Ochsner retired in 1994, and said he spent another 20 years, or so, doing Army things!


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