Vietnam Veteran U.S. Army aviator spreads his wings one more time

Posted by : admin | On : November 8, 2017

Chuck Oram
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Though not exactly a wish come true, Vietnam veteran Chuck Oram got to pilot a helicopter for a 30-minute cruise around Cedar Creek Lake Oct. 25. What’s so remarkable about this, is the former Army Chinook helicopter pilot is nearing 83 years of age and hasn’t piloted a craft since the 1990s.
However, the long-held desire kept within his heart unspoken could not be suppressed while among the warmth of friends and neighbors from Wood Canyon Waters, most of whom are former military officers.
“This all happened because I said, ‘Damn, I sure would like to get back in a Chinook again,’” he said. His friends took his desire as their mission. Though they couldn’t acquire the twin rotor Chinook, so heavily relied upon during the Vietnam War, they got their friend back into a helicopter.
Col. Charles “Chuck” Oram served 27 years in the U.S. Army as an aviator of fixed wing and helicopters and trained as a Ranger. He completed one tour of Korea and two in Vietnam. He joined the military after two years of college because he was uncertain as to where to focus, hoping the experience would give him clarity. He thought two years of service ought to do it. And he was right. The military afforded him the opportunity to serve and excel with distinction. No wonder he missed being a part of something bigger than himself.
Friend B.J. Hall knew a Dallas businessman who frequently flew his own helicopter to keep up with his many construction projects around the state. When Mark Jacobson heard about the mission, he didn’t hesitate to make his Robinson 44 craft available to the Army aviator.
All this came as a complete surprise to Oram, who thought he was just “talking out loud” while among friends. His wife, Sue, orchestrated a regular event of the occasion, setting up hot coffee and doughnuts at the Gun Barrel City Park Pavilion, along with photos and memorabilia from his military career. The volunteer fire department cleared the pad for the surprise flight, and Oram was taken out for breakfast with a drive through the park on the way back, where the whole neighborhood was assembled to greet him and watch his takeoff.
Unfamiliar with the controls of the small craft, it took a little while for him to achieve lift off. Oram said that while the adventure wasn’t even close to the five-crew member Chinook, “it was a lot of fun. And Sue really liked it.”
The most spectacular mission in Vietnam for the Chinook was the placing of artillery batteries in perilous mountain positions inaccessible by any other means, and then keeping them resupplied with large quantities of ammunition. As part of the 101st Airborne Division, Oram’s Chinook battalion would supply munitions to active combat zones and fly out the wounded. Chuck served midway through 1966 to 1967 with eight months stateside and back again for another year in 1968.
He and his crew rescued another Chinook crew that had been shot down in the An Lo Valley, and for that, Chuck was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism or extraordinary achievement during an aerial flight. He also received air medals for meritorious achievement during an aerial flight. One of these was performed by airlifting a plane from Savannah, Ga. to Atlanta for maintenance (see photograph).
As with any new piece of equipment, the Chinook’s introduction presented a major problem of “customer education”. Commanders and crew chiefs had to be constantly alert that eager soldiers did not overload the temptingly large cargo compartment. The Chinook soon proved to be such an invaluable aircraft for artillery movement and heavy logistics that it was seldom used as an assault troop carrier. Some of the Chinook fleet was used for casualty evacuation, and due to the very heavy demand for the helicopters, they were usually overburdened with wounded. Perhaps the most cost-effective use of the Chinook was the recovery of other downed aircraft.Oram was one of the older aviators during Vietnam being in his 30s, he said. After Vietnam, Oram continued his military career and completed his education with a degree in business from the University of Nebraska. In 1980, he was offered an assignment in Europe, which he declined for family priorities and took retirement, at age 46. He was recalled to active duty during the Iraq Operation Freedom to organize aviation maintenance for a year, then retired for the last time.
Afterward, Raytheon asked his assistance in developing a strategy to win some military contracts. He worked for the firm for a year and then retired to the lake, full time.
Though he and Sue have been very active in the POA over the years, these days Chuck focuses on his health with the three Bs: breathing deeply, balance and brain engagement. He works out at the gym four to five times a week.
He and wife Sue have been married for 61 years, produced two daughters and have five grandchildren and four great grandchildren. They have been residents of Cedar Creek Lake for 32 years.