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U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Russell L. Cayler, USAF (Retired)
Date of Death: 2020, October 23
Date of Birth: 1941, February 15
Russ Cayler, sitting, at the 50th Jolly Green Reunion in May 2019. Jolly Green is a group of pilots from the Vietnam era, Rescue Helicopter. Courtesy photo, Celia Fulfs Finnen
By KIMBERLY K. FU | email@example.com | Vacaville Reporter
PUBLISHED: October 24, 2020 at 9:10 p.m. | UPDATED: October 24, 2020 at 9:11 p.m.
By all accounts, Russ Cayler was all about service — to America, to his family, to his community.
On Friday, the longtime Dixon resident and Air Force veteran lost a long battle with illness. He was 79.
On Saturday, an outpouring of sadness was evident on social media. He was clearly beloved.
His niece, Celia Fulfs Finnen, wrote that Heaven had gained “one of the kindest souls I know.”
More than 11 years ago, she had successfully donated a kidney to him, she said, and it helped him continue in his fight to help others.
“He was a peaceful and loving man who gave us adventures and love my siblings and I will cherish forever,” she added. “We will miss him beyond measure.”
Brock McMahon with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8151 in Dixon said he had great respect for Cayler and enjoyed their conversations.
“He was an outstanding veteran. You could always count on him,” he said. “He was so active in so many different organizations and much loved in the community.”
Former Dixon mayor Jack Batchelor, now a senior field representative for Congressman John Garamendi, D-Solano, called Cayler a true patriot.
“He was a decorated helicopter pilot during Vietnam and was involved in the Jonestown recovery mission and he served our country,” Batchelor advised. “He was a good person overall.”
Cayler, he continued, was just genuine.
“He listened and when he wanted to make his point he was very direct and there was no mistaking his words,” Batchelor pointed out. “And they were filled with thought and honesty.”
The veteran, he said, made a difference.
“He really did his best to make Dixon special,” Batchelor said.
Dixon Planning Commissioner Kevin Johnson emphasized that he will miss his friend.
“He was just an angel walking on earth,” Johnson said. “He was a hero. He literally went into hot areas (as a helicopter rescue pilot) and helicoptered in and saved people’s lives.”
Cayler always had a positive attitude, he recalled, and despite health setbacks, helped at numerous Dixon Rotary Club functions and anywhere else he was needed. He and his wife, Kay, “are both just gifts to Dixon,” he enthused.
Russ Cayler was named Dixon Veteran of the Year in 2016.
In an interview with The Reporter at the time, he spoke of being an active duty Air Force pilot from July 1963 to July 1983. He retired out of McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento County and later served 12 years in the state reserves.
He flew jets and helicopters and eventually became a flight instructor.
While stationed in Texas, he flew an H-53 helicopter on combat rescue missions during the Vietnam War.
One rescue in northern Laos, classified for decades, was discussed in Timothy Castle’s book “One Day Too Long.” Eleven radar technicians were killed and Cayler and his crew rescued the lone wounded survivor.
The mission was classified and couldn’t be discussed for decades.
More than 20 years later, a son of one of the deceased radar techs told Cayler that his dad would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, Cayler and his wife attended the ceremony at the White House.
Cayler served 13 months in Southeast Asia from 1967 to 1968, then three and a half years in Okinawa.
He would later help transport more than 900 bodies from the infamous Jonestown mass poisoning in 1978.
Following his retirement in 1983, Cayler and his wife started an insurance agency. He retired fully in 2000.
Cayler was active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8151, a member of the Dixon Rotary Club, the Dixon Chamber of Commerce, American Legion Post 208 and the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee. He was also a member of the Daedalians, the Jolly Green Association (past president), member of the Clan Wallace and the Scottish American Military Society, and a colonel in the State Military Reserve.
He also belonged to the National Civil War Association, E Clampus Vitus, Dixon Scottish Cultural Association, Clan Anderson and Clan MacKay.
He would later become a chaplain with the Dixon Police Department.
Chief Robert Thompson remembered Cayler for his service.
“Russ was a kind and gentle soul who served the people of Dixon, and the members of the Dixon Police Department, with kindness and compassion,” the chief said. “Russ made it a point to often ride along with officers on patrol, not because he was interested in police work, but because he was interested in the well-being of the men and women doing it.
“Russ’s concern for officers and staff made him a fixture in Dixon, and he will be sorely missed.”
Cayler’s wife of 56 years, Kay, spoke of the couple’s adventures together.
They met in a pizza place where they both worked in college and became inseparable.
They traveled the world together, grew together, encouraged and supported one another.
Russ, she said, truly loved serving and, of course, flying.
“He always wanted to fly, since he was a little boy,” he said. And then he did, and saved lives. “He loved flying and he loved flying helicopters. He loved the hum of the helicopters.”
Russ was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the Vietnam War and the Distinguished Flying Cross, among others.
Service information was unavailable.
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