HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - To say Edward Trexler is intriguing is an understatement. He tells gripping tales of his time in Vietnam, pictures sparking a flood of memories.
“The photographs are worth their weight in gold just to be able to review things,” he said.
Trexler displayed unbelievable bravery in Vietnam. He went on to have a long career with the National Guard, training future generations on the Black Hawk helicopters. He also worked on Redstone Arsenal.
He was born and raised in the Allentown, PA area. His father was with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He liked maintenance and worked in frame and front end shop in high school. After graduating from high school, Trexler went to Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics at the Allegheny County Airport and received his Airframe and Powerplant license and FCC license.
“So I had my Federal Aviation Maintenance licenses and my communications licenses when I graduated and then I went back home and when I got there, my draft notice was there,” Trexler said.
He wanted to stay in aviation. He went to basic training and advanced Chinook school and was assigned to New Cumberland Army Depot in PA in flight test. He received a Boeing Rescue Award during a Medevac of an injured soldier.
Then he got orders for Vietnam, but there wasn’t a unit assignment. He left and ended up getting assigned to 173rd Assault Helicopter Company.
“I was an assault support helicopter guy in Chinooks. I went to the orderly room and asked what it meant because it was for Hueys and I was a Chinooks. They said they needed people right now and that I was headed to the Robinhoods,” Trexler explained.
He was deployed for about a year.
He worked as a Downed helicopter rigger and Maintenance Crew Chief during Lam Son 719. Then, he joined the First Flight Platoon as a UH-1 Crew Chief.
While in Laos, his team went to help another downed crew and started taking fire. They ended up getting shot down too.
As a Huey crew chief on the maintenance ship, he would go out and rig Hueys that were shot down so that the Chinooks and CH-53s could pick them up.
"We did that on that day. We rigged it and hooked it up to the big boy. The four of us waited for our aircraft to come back after the Chinook left. We got back in Huey and took off and got a call that one of our crew was there," Trexler said.
They diverted in that direction to pick the crew up and they started receiving incoming fire. It disrupted the flight controls so they ended up crashing into the lower part of a mountain.
"Luckily, the aircraft, when it hit, it slid up the mountain through the bamboo and the rotor system didn’t hit anybody when it leaned forward," he stated.
After the aircraft stopped, they all got out, taking their weapons and ammo and secure radio.
"I told everybody to get to the front of the aircraft. We rendezvoused there. I took care of the one of the pilots who was hurt a little bit. We all got together and walked up to the top of the mountain where the landing zone was," he said.
"Then an aircraft came and picked us up, plus the crew members that were there that we were going to pick up so it was a success story as far as everybody living through it that day but it was not a good situation," Trexler added.
He was recognized for getting everyone out and to safety.
"I received my Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission that I was in in Laos. I received that award along with a lot of wonderful brothers and we all helped take care of each other which was very important to each one of us," Trexler said.
He supported both Lam Son 719 into Laos and the Krek Operation into Cambodia.
He was discharged from duty in February 1972 as a Specialist 5.
After Vietnam, he worked for New Cumberland Army Depot in Flight Test and participated in Rescue Operations during Hurricane Agnes Flood. He received another Boeing Helicopter Rescue Award and a PA Governor Citation.
In 1976, he joined the Pennsylvania National Guard 228 Assault Support Helicopter Company, serving as a CH-47 Flight Engineer. He was later assigned to the 1028 Transportation Company, serving as a CH-54A Flight Engineer. Drafted and received State Approval for the CH-47/CH-54 Flight Engineering Standardization Program.
He completed his enlisted career with 2,500 + accident free Air Plane and Helicopter Flight Engineer hours. He also participated in Rescue Operations during the Johnstown Flood and received a Pennsylvania Cross for Valor and another Boeing Rescue Award.
In 1983, he was assigned to the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (EAATS) and received his Warrant Officer Commission. Through 1992, he supported the 2B24 Simulator Team as an Instrument Instructor and Training Coordinator.
In October 1992, he was assigned as the UH-60 Systems Instructor supporting the National Guard and U.S. Army Enlisted and Pilot Training Programs.
"They were looking for guys to teach Black Hawk people. So they opened the training site to teach Chinooks and Black Hawks primarily to National Guard people. I went all over the United States to Guard units teaching them Black Hawks, including Birmingham and Montgomery, working with those guys so we could get the pilots trained up because Fort Rucker was very bust at the time so it worked out very well," Trexler said.
It was rewarding for him to share his knowledge because he had good instructors along the way.
"They wanted to impart and share information with us and all we had to do was to make sure we had the receiver turned on so that we would understand, listen, ask questions and move forward. So when I had the opportunity to teach at the training site, I enjoyed that because I liked sharing information," Trexler added.
He retired in 1999 from the U.S. Army at the rank of Chief Warrant Office 4. His family was in North Carolina at the time so he could be close to Fort Bragg with all of the simulator work he did.
The Black Hawk office at Redstone Arsenal reached out, interviewed him and offered him a job.
He started in 1999 as a contractor in the Black Hawk office.
He says being inducted into the Madison County Hall of Heroes this year is a wonderful privilege. Every year, they add six new veterans to the distinguished list.
"I think it’s great for our younger soldiers today that we now have these programs that we did not have back in the post-Vietnam era. It’s great that everyone, whatever organization it is, wants to reach out and connect with the veterans, male and female, and try to take care of them. We’re trying to do that today but unfortunately, we didn’t see a lot of that back in the early 70s," Trexler said.
Trexler says his family has been his backbone. He's been married to his wife Georgann for 45 years and they have two children and two grandchildren. He never lost sight of the things instilled in him by the Army.
"The thing is the mission. You have to complete the mission. But in order to complete the mission, you have to take care of yourself and you have to take care of your fellow soldiers. Because without doing that, you can’t complete your mission. So to me, that was the most important thing, from basic training on, that the Army tried to teach me and I believe it helped me get through a lot of things," Trexler explained.
His Military Awards include: The Legion of Merit, The Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star (2), Vietnam Service Medal (2) Stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Air Medals, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry w/Palm (Unit), Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal (Unit), National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Commendation Medal (3), Army Achievement Medal, Non-Commission Officers Professional Development Ribbon w/3