Topeka veteran recounts his 26 years as a helicopter pilot

Veterans Voices

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Rod Willis served two tours in Vietnam when he enlisted after graduating high school.

He has since retired after 26 years of service, but still volunteers his time at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka.

Former Colonel Rod Willis is a highly decorated veteran, with multiple Purple Hearts and Silver Star awards.

He enlisted in 1966 right after graduating high school.

“Our family has a long history in the military so after high school, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time studying,” said Willis.

Instead, he learned how to fly helicopters.

Willis had some incredible adventures which included being shot down three times in one day.

“Him and I were the only two that knew where the enemy was and how they had pinned down our unit so sending anyone else in would have been ludicrous, they would have been killed,” said Willis.

Kevin Drewelow is the director for the Combat Air Musueum where Willis volunteers.

Drewelow said he had no idea the impact Willis had in the war until recently.

“He and another gentleman who lives in Kansas City revolutionized how aero scouts worked in Vietnam,” said Drewelow. “The work they did carried on into today.”

Willis dedicated his life to service and said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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