Only a stroke could ground this fighter pilot
After suffering a stroke in 2014, John Newhouse II has been unable to walk or talk. But that wasn't always the case — there was a time when he soared with the eagles.
The retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, a Dundee resident, saw extensive action during the Vietnam War, including some action he probably would rather forget.
That was the case in 1970 when he was on a mission over Vietnam.
"He was flying the F-105 (fighter) and had just come off a bombing mission," said John's wife, Janice, who related the details of this story in her 79-year-old husband's stead. "His wingman told him his plane was on fire and he needed to bail out. He was over enemy territory and so was trying to head to the ocean, thinking that would be safer for a bailout. … In retrospect, if he had landed in the water he would not have been alert enough to inflate his raft."
Unfortunately, the plane plunged into a dive, forcing Newhouse to prepare to exit the plane sooner than expected.
"In a bailout all you do is pull the right handles and the rest is automatic," Janice said.
Fortunately, friendly aerial operators in the area were well aware of Newhouse's plight and swooped in to help him out.
"The Jolly Green Giant Army rescue helicopter heard his mayday (call) and watched him come down," Janice said. "He landed in a bomb crater surrounded by teak trees. The helicopter was able to come down and pull him out. It was in enemy territory, and it was one of the quickest rescues of the war."
The aftermath of the crash was not so quick, however. X-rays at the field hospital revealed a fracture in his spine, but further examination determined it was an old hairline fracture, probably suffered years earlier when playing sports.
"He was taken to Da Nang," Janice said, adding that her husband suffered amnesia and there is a gap in his memory from the time he bailed out until he awoke in the hospital. "His survival was a miracle; he was too high, going too fast and landed in enemy territory."
He received a Purple Heart in recognition of his injury, along with what Janice characterized as a "plethora of commendations and awards."
Despite growing up in Oakdale, New York, in a family devoid of aviation buffs (Janice's father was an airplane mechanic, although she claims no understanding of aviation), Newhouse caught the flying bug and entered the Air Force Academy, from which he graduated in 1963.
He began pilot training in Selma, Alabama, soon after and it wasn't long before he found himself stationed in Udorn and Ubon in Thailand, where he was tasked with flying F-4 and F-105 fighters. All told, he flew more than 100 combat missions.
After emerging from the war, the Air Force sent Newhouse to USC to become a safety expert, a position where he investigated aviation accidents and trained others on safety. He also was an adviser with the Royal Australian Air Force, served in a fighter weapons squadron in Las Vegas, and was involved in testing of the Aim 9L mission, used extensively in the first Gulf War.
"He flew for companies, corporate and private," Janice said, adding that at the time of his stroke he was the chief pilot at a base in McMinnville, where he trained wannabe pilots.
"He could train you to your commercial license and also gave check rides as needed," she said. "He flew the week before his stroke."
Newhouse's love affair with flying hasn't ceased, although his ability to pilot a plane has.
"Flying was in my husband's blood. It was the passion of his life …," Janice said. "He would get up in the morning and say 'Great day for flying. Cloudy day, you get above the clouds and the sun is beautiful; a sunny day and life is good.'
"If you had a conversation with him it would be at the most 10 minutes before you were conversing on planes. He enjoyed other activities, but somehow it always related to his love of flying."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.