James T. Newman, a Vietnam War helicopter pilot whose rescues of downed airmen earned him the Distinguished Service Cross and other honors, has died. He was 73.
Newman’s son, Jay, said he died Sunday at the University of North Carolina medical center in Chapel Hill of complications associated with lung cancer.
Newman was twice nominated for the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor. While he did not receive that medal, he did get a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for combat valor, the Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and 23 Air Medals, among others.
In an interview years later, the Georgia native said he could “get the shakes” in recalling such incidents although at the time he had felt “no fear.”
He first served in Vietnam in 1966, suffering a leg wound that nearly led to an amputation. Regaining flight status, he returned in 1970 as commander of C Troop, 2/17 Air Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division.
His first nomination for the Medal of Honor came in February 1971, when he rescued four U.S. crewmen from a crashed medevac helicopter on a mountaintop base in Laos where South Vietnamese Rangers were under heavy attack by North Vietnamese troops.
The same week, he rescued two other downed pilots by chopping down small trees with his main rotor blade, an act that astonished helicopter experts but earned Newman a Silver Star.
Five months later, Newman rescued two more pilots injured in a crash near the Laotian border, spotting a flash from their signal mirror and extracting the men with seconds to spare.
Richard Frazee, another former C Troop member, called Newman “a man of immeasurable courage who made us all feel invincible.”
In 2000, Newman was inducted into the 101st Airborne Division’s Hall of Fame at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery, the family said.