Air Commando Passes


SOF Support
Apr 24, 2009
News from ACA Headquarters

ACA founder BG "Heinie" Aderholt passes away

Our beloved founder BGen Harry "Heinie" Aderholt passed away on Thursday morning, 20 May 2010 in his home after a long illness. As we expected, he fought to the very end with the same fighting spirit that he displayed throughout his incredible career. We will always miss him. Memorial service details will be provided as soon as possible.
Brig. Gen. Heinie Aderholt, ‘Air Commando One,’ dies at 90

By TOM McLAUGHLIN of the Northwest Florida Daily News

Brig. Gen. Heinie Aderholt, credited with being a driving force behind the formation the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, has died at the age of 90.

“He died like a soldier,” said old friend Paco Rabell. “He died facing the sun.”

Rabell said he spent several days in vigil with Aderholt and his family, and that the general died peacefully about 5 a.m. Thursday. His wife, Anne, and two nieces were present, Rabell said.

“His love and treatment of his fellow man made him the most honorable and decent human being I’ve ever known,” said Anne Aderholt. “I am the luckiest girl in the world to have known him.”

Aderholt, known as “Air Commando One” by friends and those who served with him, worked through the CIA and the Air Force to form what was originally known as the First Air Commando Wing.

In the 1960s, he conceived and directed a unit of Air Commandos who waged an unconventional war against the North Vietnamese. It often was fought from locations in Laos, where United States leaders denied soldiers were deployed.

“He’s probably one of the greatest leaders of unconventional warfare,” said Chuck Keeler, current president of the Air Commando Association.

In October 1973, nearly a year after retiring as a colonel, Aderholt was recalled to active duty and promoted to brigadier general. His job was to negotiate the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, said close friend Dick Geron.

“It was a very important job, and it had to be done diplomatically. He was the person called in to do it,” Geron said. “It was a very complicated job, and he made it look easy.”

Aderholt was the last general officer to leave Vietnam, Geron said.

Aderholt was loved and appreciated for his leadership style and personality. He wrote a book, “Air Commando One,” in which he chronicled his experiences in “America’s Secret Air Wars.”

He received the prestigious Bull Simons Award that recognizes those “who embody the true spirit, values and skills of a special operations warrior,” according to a website.

Non-commissioned officers at AFSOC also honored Aderholt by inducting him into the Order of the Sword.

He became only the third man to be so honored, and was called a “leader among leaders” in Air Force history.

When he received the Order of the Sword, Mike Reynolds, an AFSOC chief master sergeant, called Aderholt “a true warrior, outstanding leader, and compassionate friend of the enlisted corps.”

Contacted Thursday, the now retired Reynolds called Aderholt “the epitome of an officer.”

“This is a sad day for the Air Force and for American history,” he said. “He was truly an American hero.”

The general also received the Order of the White Elephant award from the nation of Thailand. It is that country’s highest distinction.

Aderholt remained active after his retirement. One of his greatest aspirations was to help rectify what he believed to be American disservice to the native people of Southeastern Asia who helped his men during Vietnam.

Aderholt believed the American government had reneged on promises made to Asian tribes such as the Hmong. He organized drives to collect clothing and other necessities to send to them.

Aderholt began his military career in World War II. He flew combat missions as a pilot in North Africa and Italy.

According to a brief biography compiled by friends, Aderholt spent much of the Korean conflict running night missions behind enemy lines. After Korea, he worked in support of CIA undercover operations.

During the Vietnam War, he was given the command of the 56th Air Commando Wing at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.

The wing’s low-level nighttime missions were successful in stifling North Vietnamese movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the biography said.

Aderholt was stationed briefly at Eglin Air Force Base in the 1960s, the biography said. He returned to Thailand shortly before his first retirement.

Geron, a major under Aderholt, said much of his friend’s success as an officer stemmed from his knowledge of people.

“He understood people,” he said. “He got the job done and got everybody enjoying it at the same time.”

Geron said Aderholt’s influence is obvious to anyone who knows anything about his career. He said he hopes his legacy isn’t forgotten.

“I certainly hope the people in this area will honor him in the way and fashion he deserves,” Geron said.