Pararescueman Traces Father's Footsteps
(January 19, 2011)
|ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (1/14/2011 - AFNS) -- Five-year-old Louis Distelzwieg was looking forward to his father coming home from work -- maybe playing on the swing set in the yard -- when he heard something. Something wrong.|
|"My sisters and I were upstairs, and I heard my mom crying," said the now-grown master sergeant. "I came down and asked her why. Of course, at that age, I didn't really understand. It didn't really hit me that we were never going to see him again until his funeral."|
The funeral would be for Sergeant Distelsweig's father, Capt. Louis V. Distelzweig Jr. A decorated F-100 Super Sabre pilot, Captain Distelsweig was stationed at Royal Air Force Wittering as part of an exchange program with the Royal Air Force. The assignment to No. 1 Squadron flying Harrier jets was a welcome change after two back-to-back tours in Vietnam.
However, one day in 1970, shortly after takeoff, Captain Distelzwieg's plane experienced a mechanical failure. He
Master Sgt. Louis Distelsweig looks in the cockpit of a Harrier jet Jan. 11, 2011, at Royal Air Force Cottesmore, England. The aircraft was similar to ones his father, Capt. Louis Distelsweig Jr., flew during his time as an exchange pilot with the RAF in 1970.
|attempted to eject, but in doing so the plane inverted and crashed.|
|Captain Distelzwieg died on impact.|
In the years following his father's death, Sergeant Distelzweig followed in his father's footsteps and chose the military as a career. Rather than become a fighter pilot though; his interest was in special operations. After speaking to Army, Navy and Marine Corps recruiters, his Air Force recruiter put him in contact with a pararescue instructor.
"The following day I signed on the dotted line. My class started with 27 guys and three of us graduated," Sergeant Distelzwieg said.
Today, he is the 48th Operations Group chief of pararescue standards and evaluations.
Sergeant Distelsweig's wife, Eve, said she considers it no accident that her husband went into the pararescue field.
"It's not a coincidence he dedicated his life to saving others," she said.
When he found out he would return to the United Kingdom after more than 35 years, Sergeant Distelzweig knew what he wanted to do.
"I was going to go (to No. 1 Squadron) or at least make contact with them to check out my dad's old squadron and have them show me the Harriers," he said.
However, when he first arrived, Sergeant Distelzweig immediately found himself preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Soon after his return, he found out No. 1 Squadron would be shut down as part of U.K. defense restructuring.
"It pushed me to act on this right away," he said.
While No. 1 Squadron was based at RAF Wittering in Captain Distelsweig's time, today they are based at nearby RAF Cottesmore. When Sergeant Distelsweig arrived for his visit Jan. 11, he and his wife were given a tour of the Harrier jets by Capt. Andrew Tenenbaum, an American exchange pilot just as Sergeant Distelsweig's father was.
"It's something we've been doing for 30-plus years that builds up good ties between the two nations," said Captain Tenenbaum of the exchange program, noting Sergeant Distelsweig's father would have been one of the program's first participants.
For the first time, Sergeant Distelsweig was able to climb in the cockpit of the plane his father flew.
"I saw them as a kid, but at that time you're more into playing,"he said. "All planes are pretty much the same to a 5-year old."
Following the tour of the hangar, an even bigger surprise awaited Sergeant Distelsweig. No. 1 Squadron had existed in one form or another since the turn of the last century and in that time amassed a copious amount of records and memorabilia.
"People can come back and read the diaries and find out what happened to their loved ones," said Royal Air Force Pilot Officer Cameron Macleod, who also accompanied the Distelsweig's during their visit. Several Britons have come to No. 1 Squadron to view the records, Pilot Officer Macleod said, but Sergeant Distelsweig was one of the few Americans to visit.
In an album documenting the early 1970s, among yellowed news clippings and sketches were several pictures of Captain Distelsweig and even one of him and his wife at an official dinner.
"There were photos of him that even I don't have," Sergeant Distelsweig said. Since the album was too large and fragile to photocopy, Mrs. Distelsweig snapped photos of several of the pages.
"My mother will be real appreciative of that," Sergeant Distelsweig said.
Even more intriguing was a declassified flight log, recording every activity the squadron undertook, including Captain Distelsweig's accident. Sergeant Distelsweig read the account of the accident out loud as Captain Tenenbaum explained some of the technical details of why the accident was fatal.
"What they told my mother and what actually happened were probably two different things," Sergeant Distelsweig said. "It would have been done for the benefit of the family."
Sergeant Distelsweig came to No. 1 Squadron to take a personal tour of a Harrier unit and maybe find a bit of closure for his father's death. However, he said seeing long-lost photos of him and reading the hitherto unknown account of his final flight gave more closure than he could have hoped to find when he first contacted the squadron.
"It was way more than I expected, especially this," he said, pointing to the log book.
|Article and photo by USAF Sr. Airman David Dobrydney|
48 Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Reprinted from Air Force News Service
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