SOUTH MISSOURI CHAPTER OF THE VIETNAM HELICOPTER PILOTS ASSOCIATION
South Missouri Chapter of VHPA
Dr. Dick Elgin, LS, PE
Born to the late Bob and Caroline Elgin, Dick Elgin was raised in the family surveying business in St. James, Missouri. "All through high school I worked for my father. I was a rodman, cut brush, ran prints, swept the floors, ran errands, dumped the trash, sharpened the brush hooks, learned how to throw a chain and how to tie a slip knot in a plumb bob string hanging under a K&E Paragon transit.
Air Force Aviator
South Missouri Chapter of VHPA
As anyone knows who's worked on a survey crew, it is a tough, rough, too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter job. From surveying in these Ozark hills, one of my father's legs was shorter than the other. Mine started to grow that way too," Dick remembered.
"When I graduated from high school, I'd had enough of surveying. There was one thing I was not going to be, and that was a surveyor. I was going to the University of Missouri Rolla (UMR) (now the Missouri University of Science and Technology) and become a civil engineer. No more surveying for me!"
In the Fall of 1966, Dick entered UMR as a freshman. He soon flunked out. Between calculus, physics, working too much, playing cards in the Student Union, enjoying his favorite "adult beverage," and weekly social trips to a couple of nearby women's colleges, Dick's first encounter with UMR lasted only three semesters. The pink slip came late in 1967. "In those days UMR was a tough school. About 3800 engineering students, 99% male and a real sink or swim attitude. The unfocused, like myself, drowned quickly."
But there was another governmental unit who welcomed him with open arms: The U.S. Army. It was 1967 and with Vietnam at its height, those young men who weren't in college or did not have a deferment were likely to find themselves drafted into the military.
Coast Guard Aviator
Rather than be drafted, Dick volunteered for U.S. Army Helicopter Flight School. Following Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, he entered flight school as a Warrant Officer Candidate at Fort Wolters, Texas, Class 69-5. After Preflight, Primary Helicopter, Advanced Helicopter, Tactics, and one flight school crash due to a tail rotor failure, Dick's late father, then a retired Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve Civil Engineer Corps, issued the oath to his son and pinned on a bar signifying Dick a U.S. Army Warrant Officer (WO1), then pinned on his Army Aviator Wings. It was a very proud day for both father and son.
Nineteen days later he was in Chu Lai, Vietnam, assigned to the Army's Americal Division. He was 20 years old. Dick flew the Hughes Aircraft OH 6A or "LOH" (Light Observation Helicopter) and also the ubiquitous UH-1 "Huey." Missions included combat assaults, resupply, throwing flares, "sniffer" missions, impromptu medivacs and a very unusual landing of his "LOH" on the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) which was cruising far off the Vietnam coast.
"I am probably one of the very few Army pilots who has survived two tail rotor failures. One in flight school and one in Vietnam while flying an overloaded Huey with 11 SOBs (souls on board). That day I rolled up a Huey then spent some hours in the jungle yelling on an emergency radio hoping the good guys got there before the bad guys did. The good news is the good guys got their first."
In addition to those mishaps, Dick was shot down once, had a complete hydraulics failure and had a transmission seizure (while hovering to take off). He survived them all. "Although I've certainly paid the U.S. Treasury a lot of taxes, if they billed me for the helicopters I crashed, I'd still owe them." Dick returned, decorated, from Vietnam with a hearing loss and spent the remainder of his Army obligation "flying a desk" at Fort Wolters, Texas, the Army's Primary Helicopter Flight School.
Completing his military obligations, Dick returned to UMR. This time calculus, physics and even "diffy screw" (differential equations) didn't flunk him out. He became an ASCE officer and student leader. He was the recipient of the Civil Engineering Outstanding Senior Award in 1974. He graduated with his BSCE on May 12, 1974 which was also Mother's Day and his birthday.