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Veteran's History Project

Harvey M. Reiger, Colonel, US Air Force, 1954 – 1988, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross


Larry Nelson for the Western Nebraska Observer

Harvey Reiger

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Harvey M. Reiger, Colonel Reiger, Harvey, was an exceptionally bright young man from the time he entered this world until now. By age fifteen, he had a college degree. When he was sixteen, he called on a recruiter's office inquiring about the opportunities the US Air Force had for him.

The recruiter in New York City was somewhat incredulous when Harvey told him he was sixteen and had a college degree. This was a significant moment for the recruiter, no? Was this kid yanking his chain or how soon can he be signed up? The recruiter didn't bother to check the new recruit's birth certificate. Very soon, Harvey was on a bus, headed for San Antonio, TX. A suburb there is Lackland Air Force Base. Harvey is at least two years or more, junior to all people on the bus.

Basic training went satisfactorily for Harvey... with the exception that he was bitten by a rattlesnake. While doing push-ups, Harvey was positioned over a crack in the ground. Unbeknownst to Harvey, a snake was situated in the crack and bit the young Airman in the leg. After 5 days in the hospital, Harvey was able to rejoin his unit.

Harvey made it through the rest of basic training. He was an enlisted man. After marching across the parade field signifying graduation from basic training, Harvey was sent to Kelly Air Field, next to Lackland Air Force Base. Trainers from the Air Force wanted to watch this youngster to see if he could fly etc. He completed all the tasks.

His training continued with learning to fly a number of different aircraft. He performed solo flights on the C-41A. He flew the AT-6 trainer, then the F-5 for additional work. He passed flight training at sixteen years old. Second Lieutenant Bars were pinned on his uniform. Harvey was an Officer in the US Air Force.

2LT Reiger moved around the country for additional training on flying and introduction to the weaponry employed by the various flying machines. Harvey was a little upset because he had never been away from home for that long. He stayed with it, developing friends along the way. It is 1955 on his timeline. The first base he was assigned to was McGuire AFB.

His duties at McGuire were concerned with generating more practice time and soon, he was transferred to Torrejon AFB in Spain. Here he flew the F-101 and F-102 (Voodoo) Aircraft on reconnaissance missions. The F-101 was a delta-wing plane that was the fastest interceptor in the air at the time.

In 1960, at age twenty-two, Harvey was transferred to Southeast Asia and a US Air Force Base in Thailand. Here, he and others flew the F-102 (Dagger) aircraft. The next plane they flew was the F-4 Phantom. There was vague information that some pilots had been shot down, but no specific information. Harvey was assigned here two years, and then sent on to other bases in the region.

Harvey was sent to Da Nang Air Base, the most northerly base in the Republic of Viet Nam. During a mission, the Forward Air Controller (FAC) notified the unit that there was a downed aircraft in the area beneath their location. The FAC advised that the plane's pilot was close to being overtaken by ground forces. Harvey could see what was going on below him. There was a narrow road available but there were lots of trees on the sides of the road. Harvey landed the aircraft there. (just prior to landing, the Armament Officer in the rear of the plane said: "we're not going down there... Holy Sh*t"!!) Four feet of the left wing and eight feet of the right wing were broken off. The besieged pilot found a way to jump into the airplane and sat on Harvey's lap. As the rescued pilot hung on to the canopy and worked the throttle, Harvey worked the rudder. Miraculously, they got off the ground and back to base. The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to this brave pilot, Harvey Reiger.

After flying 100 combat missions, it was Air Force practice to send pilots back to the States. Harvey was re-assigned to a different Fighter Wing... that was scheduled to go to Vietnam again.

In his off time, Harvey would go to the Officer's Club and watch others play cards or listen to music. He had no use for alcohol. He was on flight status much of the time. There were briefings for the pilots before they went out. The type of mission, where it was set to happen, expectations, etc.

One of the missions had Harvey flying protection for the FAC. The Forward air controller was also dropping smoke bombs to signal friendly forces about where the enemy was. The FAC was flying a single engine plane. The FAC took heavy fire as did the ground troops. A medical evacuation helicopter was coming in to extract the wounded troops. The enemy continued firing, relentlessly.

Harvey strafed the area repeatedly with 30 caliber ammo, keeping the enemy pinned down while the wounded could get away. The guns were placed three on each side of the fuselage. Although he flew at tree-top level, his plane was not hit. His actions at this spot, earned him the Silver Star.

Harvey said that in their housing area, there was some relaxation, but there were times when the houseboys had taken up arms and shot the people they worked for. The plots didn't really know who was who.

As their combat time came to an end, Harvey and others were flown back to California for rest and relaxation and new work assignments. Again, his new unit of assignment was headed for Vietnam. DANG! This time, he flew a range of planes including the "Ranch Hand" C-130. This mission was to spray the foliage with Dioxin, so that the tree cover would be minimized. "It won't hurt you a bit" they were told. That stuff was in huge tanks in the plane. The Dioxin vapors permeated the aircraft. The pilot and crew were immediately exposed to one of the worst man-made toxins known. From the crew of five men four have passed on. For Harvey, sugar diabetes developed over the years. He lost sight in his left eye as a result. Harvey said that the VA is slow to recognize this combat-related injury – even to this day.

Harvey returned to the States after his last tour. He was in Vietnam and Thailand for over three and a half years. There were approximately 265 missions he flew. As his career went on, Harvey was in seventy-two Countries while flying for the US Air Force.

As his career developed, promotions continued as well. With the Eagles of a Colonel, a chest full of medals on his uniforms, and thirty -four years service, it was time to make a change. Harvey earned the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Airman's Medal, Air Force Commendation, Meritorious Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and Vietnam Service Medal, AF long and short tour ribbons, Presidential and Unit Citations, the National Defense and Good Conduct Medals.

Colonel Harvey Reiger, you are an amazing man of calm, courage, and commitment. Thank you for your spectacular service!


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