Gulfport's P.T. Yowell, former pilot for Ike, had distinguished military career
The Sun Herald
GULFPORT, Miss. -- Growing up in the small town of Halfway, Ore., Perry "P.T." Yowell never could have guessed where his life would take him.
The son of a man who mined gold in Cornucopia, which is now a ghost town, Yowell eventually embarked on an impressive military career that lasted the better part of four decades and spanned the globe.
Clicking through pictures of his past on a big-screen desktop computer in his apartment at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, the 84-year-old former helicopter pilot vividly recalled snapshots from his military career.
"Here, I have a two-star general and a one-star general who are my wing walkers -- that's what you call cheap help," he joked, which he did often while reminiscing Wednesday morning.
As a 4-foot-9, 90-pound 16-year-old, Yowell enlisted in the merchant marine and would later serve in the Navy and as an Army helicopter pilot.
"I wanted to go into the Navy but I wasn't big enough (yet) so the closest thing to it was the merchant marines. That was fun," he said. "I went through the Panama Canal, China, India, Singapore, Shanghai and what was then Calcutta. That was quite an experience for a young kid."
After several stints with the Navy in the late '40s and '50s, Yowell switched to the Army in 1957.
Following graduation from flight school in 1959, he was immediately picked up as one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's pilots with the executive flight detachment.
"They needed pilots real bad so that's how I ended up in the executive flight," he said. "We did all kinds of missions. Most of them I'm not going to tell you about because you had to have a top secret clearance to be in there.
"We didn't just fly the president. We flew all different kinds of people, hid people and stuff like that. That's about all I can tell you."
Although he couldn't elaborate, Yowell said he enjoyed flying the president stateside for eight months.
"Ike was a neat guy. When we were at Camp David he'd always invite us down for a drink," Yowell said. "He treated us like a million bucks."
Yowell didn't face fire during the Korean War, but the same couldn't be said for his two tours in Vietnam.
"I made up for it over there," he said, adding he flew 713 combat hours during the war.
In 1967, Yowell became the first Army test pilot for the Cobra helicopter.
"The Cobra wasn't that much different to fly, but I had been flying a long time by then. The only difference was you had wrist controls," he said. "It was easy to do."
By the time he retired as a chief warrant officer four in 1974, Yowell had earned 20 air medals, among other awards.
Yowell still relives the glory days at least one weekend a year when he meets up with pals from the 174th Assault Helicopter Company in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
"There's only probably five people left that I was actually with in Vietnam. But we became such good friends over the years at the reunions that it was like we were all together at the same time," he said. "It's one of the neatest bunch of people I have ever known."
Yowell clicked through a couple more pictures, then paused.
"I wouldn't change it for the world," he said. "It has been a great life and how I survived, I don't have the slightest idea."