Martin C. Evans

Last Vietnam War pilot retires from NY Guard

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

The New York National Guard lost its last remaining Vietnam War helicopter jockey, when Chief Warrant Officer Herb A. Dargue, the grandson of one of the U.S. military’s first pilots, retired today.

Here is what I wrote in today’s Newsday.

Chief Warrant Officer Herb A. Dargue represents the end of the line, both for the New York Army National Guard and for the Dargue family itself.

The veteran helicopter pilot, a hale man of 62 whose retirement Friday ends a military career that began in the 1960s, is the last Vietnam War pilot still flying for the New York Guard.

The Brookhaven resident is also the last pilot in a family whose aviation roots reach to the dawn of military flight.

CW4 Herbert A. Dargue, at the 3-142 Assault Helicopter Battalion Headquarters Ronkonkoma. (Charles Eckert photo)

“I’m very proud of my grandfather,” said Dargue, who flies Blackhawks with the Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation unit, based in Ronkonkoma. “He was at the very beginning of military flight.”

His grandfather, Maj. Gen. Herbert A. Dargue, flew two-seat biplanes during General Pershing’s 1916 pursuit of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Two years earlier, he was the first pilot to use a radio in flight.

CWO Dargue’s career as a helicopter pilot began with the muscular enthusiasm of youth 43 years ago in Vietnam, a 20-year-old Army airman dodging death at the controls of a multimillion-dollar aircraft. Dargue does not want it to end with a whimper – a retirement party, handshakes from colleagues, a final goodbye.

“I’m looking for a job,” said Dargue, of Brookhaven, whose last flight with the Guard is scheduled for this morning. “Flying is in my blood.”

Flying is also amply represented on his resume.

Other pilots express astonishment at his more than 20,000 hours at the controls.

After flying combat missions in the Mekong Delta, Dargue left the Army in 1969 to work as a helicopter pilot, ferrying traffic reporters above Washington, D.C., for a capital radio station. Later he provided helicopter training for the Iranian military, from 1977 to 1979 when the overthrow of the shah forced Dargue to flee. He joined the Guard in 1980 while keeping his day job as a corporate pilot based in New York. But in 2005, Dargue found himself again in a combat zone, when his unit was deployed to Iraq.

An amazing career

“I don’t know anyone with 20,000 hours in helicopters,” said Richard Schmitt, of Danbury, Conn., who flew corporate choppers for 40 years, before retiring in 1999. “It represents an amazing career in helicopters. I probably have 1,700 or 2,000 hours, which is very respectable in military aviation.”

Schmitt, 67, who also flew helicopters in Dargue’s Guard unit, described Dargue as a low-key professional whose experience has steeled fellow Guardsmen.

“He’s not a flash dancer, so to speak – he’s rock-steady Herb,” Schmitt said. “I think the example that he sets rubs off on others – keeping your head and doing the job with very little fanfare.”

His calm demeanor probably saved his life on at least four occasions, when he went down while flying helicopters whose power quit.

Each time, he coolly used the helicopter’s own downward momentum to power the rotor and steer himself to safety, including once when he had to weave between buildings to set down in a Long Island City parking lot.

“He’s an aviator’s aviator,” said Keshner, 66, of Great Neck, who flew up from his Florida winter home to attend Dargue’s Champagne-doused send-off Friday. “He’s the end of an era for all the Vietnam guys.”

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