KEARNEY — Chuck Ogle still fingers the helmet he wore as a pilot in Vietnam 51 years ago. That helmet saved his life.

On March 9, 1968, Ogle was the pilot in the 498th U.S. Army Medical Corps air ambulance company in Vietnam. He was sent to pick up injured soldiers during the Tet Offensive.

“At 4:30 a.m., we were maybe 70 to 80 feet off the ground, preparing to land, when the aircraft received heavy ground fire,” he said.

The helicopter lost its engine and slammed into the ground. A bullet pierced the left back side of Ogle’s helmet, grazed over his skull and lodged in the helmet’s right side. It caused a wound on top of Ogle’s scalp that required 40 stitches to close.

Ogle spent two weeks in a military hospital. The first night he returned to duty, he was assigned to the same area where he was shot down. As his helicopter took off, “Enemy fire shot up the bottom of the aircraft. The fuel cell had multiple holes, causing rapid loss of fuel,” he said.

The chopper made an emergency landing. This time, nobody was hurt.

During his first 12 months in Vietnam, Ogle was the pilot of 10 aircraft that were hit by enemy fire, but he suffered injuries only in that first incident.

“If you worry about death, you can’t do your job. You worry about things that could have happened only after you land,” he said.

Awards and more

Today, Ogle keeps that bullet-punctured helmet and other keepsakes in the lower level of his Kearney home. On the wall is a framed case holding 11 military ribbons and honors, including the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

He and his wife Lynda built the house 11 years ago after he retired from a 22-year military career (“22 years, two months and nine days”) and a 21-year post-military career. During the years, they moved 27 times.

Helicopter down

Chuck Ogle survived the crash of this helicopter in Vietnam on March 9, 1968. He was the pilot of the chopper. It was roughly 70 to 80 feet off the ground, preparing to land, when it was hit. Ogle spent two weeks in the hospital before returning to duty.

‘Choosing’ Vietnam

Ogle enlisted in the military in January 1966. The military draft had just been reinstated and Ogle’s number was coming up, so rather than risk being called up and having no choice of assignment, he enlisted and signed up for the U.S. Army Aviation Program. Then 23 years old, he already had some flying time.

“I loved to fly,” he said.

He initially was assigned to basic training in Fort Polk, La. He then did primary helicopter training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and advanced training at Fort Rucker, Ala.

In May 1967, he graduated from flight school and was commissioned a warrant officer with more air medical training followed in San Antonio.

Then, he was assigned to Vietnam. He served from July 1967 to July 1968.

Returning to the U.S., he went to Fort Wolters, and then to Fort Rucker, where he learned to fly a CH-47 Chinook, one of the largest, heaviest military helicopters. From there, he attended the maintenance officer training course and maintenance test flight course in Fort Eustis, Va.

In 1971, he returned to Vietnam and flew with the Chinook company in the 147th (“Hill Climbers”) Company. He was part of a special reconnaissance unit formed by the U.S. Military Assistance Command to collect operational intelligence in remote areas of South Vietnam. As a maintenance officer and test pilot, Ogle did recoveries of downed aircraft in Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as resupply missions.

In total, Ogle carried more than 2,650 patients in rescue missions in Vietnam. He was part of the Dustoff and Medivac aircraft crews that flew half a million medical missions. In total, they evacuated 900,000 people.

“That doesn’t count the resupply aircraft I flew in and carried people out of Vietnam as the war ended,” he said.

Back home again

He came back to the United States in 1972 and served in the military for 16 more years, primarily in maintenance support companies or general support maintenance companies in various places across the country. By the time he retired on March 30, 1988, he had achieved the rank of a Chief Warrant Officer 4. Warrant officers are the highest ranking non-commissioned officers.

Six days after taking off his uniform, he put his military background to work for a major engine manufacturing company in Florida. In 1995, he and Lynda went to Chin Hae, Korea, for two years on a company contract with the U.S. Air Force on a Korean fighter program. Ogle was a technical support manager for building the engines to go into F-16 fighters.

Following that, he worked in various places for that engine company. He also spent six years for the South West Research Institute in Huntsville, Ala., doing research and development on military helicopters of the future.

He and Lynda retired to Nebraska in 2008, and built what they call their retirement home outside of Kearney in 2011.

Disgusted by protesters

During the Vietnam War, Ogle was “disgusted with the American population and their lack of support for the military,” he said. “It’s not like today when we welcome veterans and their return. The news media and their hype is what blew that war all out of proportion. Vietnam vets were not treated correctly.”

He noted that Americans were “extremely supportive” of the first two World Wars and the Korean War, but not Vietnam. “Hippies were totally against the Vietnam War. They found every excuse there was not to serve the country and get out of the draft,” he said.

He added, “Today we have an all-volunteer Army. It’s often said when you volunteer, you sign a blank check willing to give your life to support this country. That’s how I felt when I enlisted.”

That feeling has not faded. Ogle has been to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. several times.

Friends and family

Every day, Ogle carries, in his back pocket, a list of 14 personnel who were killed in action. He also carries a photo of the late Jim Hoyt of Hastings, one of his closest military friends. The two went to basic training and flight school together. Hoyt died in Vietnam.

Ogle treasures the support of his wife Lynda, whom he calls “my right arm” and who supported his military career and his work afterward. Married 55 years, they have two children, including daughter Holly in Kearney and son Heath in Vero Beach, Fla. They also have four granddaughters and three great-grandsons.

Ogle, a native of Valentine and a graduate of Valentine High School, is active with the Midway Chapter 14 of the Disabled American Veterans. He has held, and currently holds, several leadership positions in that organization, along with state positions with the DAV Department of Nebraska.

Ogle also coordinates the drivers who transport Kearney area veterans to medical appointments in Grand Island. He is a driver as well. Donations helped purchased the van that carries those vets, he said.

“I’m helping other veterans. Once you retire, you have a duty to help your fellow veteran,” he said.

After 43 years in his military and post-military career, and 27 addresses, Ogle and Lynda are glad to be back in Nebraska.

“There are good things about every place we lived, but we came back home, where the people and the country are nice,” he said.

maryjane.skala@kearneyhub.com

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