40 years later, helicopter pilot awarded Silver Star
January 25, 2006
HANAU, Germany — Dressed in his Class A uniform, a suit he bought in Hong Kong in 1969, the veteran helicopter pilot looked fit enough to climb back into the cockpit for another run.
“It fits OK,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Walter Schramm. “I didn’t have to do any alterations.”
At the behest of the Army, Schramm returned Tuesday to one of his old stomping grounds, Fliegerhorst Casern in Hanau. Forty years after he led an effort to airlift critically wounded soldiers from a volatile valley in the Bong Son Mountains of Vietnam, the Army formally awarded Schramm the Silver Star.
It’s not every day a servicemember — past or present — receives the U.S. military’s third-highest medal for valor, so the 4th Brigade conference room was packed with scores of people.
“It’s good the Army was able to review his citation and upgrade it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Leonard Momeny, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot.
Schramm, 75, was initially awarded an Air Medal with valor for his role in the Feb. 17, 1966, effort to evacuate nearly 20 soldiers from a small, deep valley ringed by the Bong Son Mountains in what was then South Vietnam. He was later informed that his award was going to be upgraded to a Silver Star, but, as is sometimes the case, recollections recede, records stack up and new issues overtake old ones.
Last November, while in Washington, D.C., for an annual Veteran’s Day dinner, Schramm, who now lives in Coburg, Germany, learned that he would be receiving the Silver Star after all.
“I accept this honor with pride,” Schramm said at Tuesday’s ceremony, “not only for myself, but for the crewmembers who flew with me that day.”
February in Vietnam is a transitional month, with the winter-spring rice crop nearing maturity and temperatures on the rise. On the day Schramm and a second helicopter daringly evacuated critically wounded soldiers the slightly overcast sky was punctuated by beams of sunshine.
To the wounded troops on the ground, the sight of Schramm’s UH-1D Huey helicopter landing must have seemed like some divine deliverance.
“There definitely is a bond between people who face death together,” Schramm said after the ceremony. “You can’t duplicate that in civilian life.”
Schramm and his two-ship crew flew in to pick up the wounded after delivering much-needed supplies a short distance away. His men weren’t tasked to evacuate the wounded, but they couldn’t help themselves. They had to do it, and Schramm did it twice.
The presidential citation noted that the landing zone “was insecure due to intense and accurate hostile sniper action” from North Vietnamese soldiers.
On several occasions Tuesday, Schramm credited his crew and the thousands of other servicemembers, whether on the ground, in the air or at sea, who perform heroically, but don’t always get recognized.
“The real award is the accomplishment of what you did,” he said. “This conviction inside of you [to aid your fellow servicemember] is reward enough.”