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U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
William J. Kerwood, TSgt. USAF (Fallen)July 12, 1966 – November 23, 2003
Air Force Technical Sgt. Kerwood was assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida. The 20th Special Operations Squadron typically conducts low-level penetration operations into enemy territory, providing air support for ground troops and resupplying Special Forces units. Kerwood was serving as flight engineer onboard an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter conducting combat operations for ‘Operation Mountain Resolve’ when it crashed nine miles east of Bagram Air Base. A compressor problem caused one of the two engines on the Pave Low to stall, leaving it with one engine operating and too much weight to carry in the thin mountain air. The pilots attempted to jettison the auxiliary tanks without success and then the other engine stalled while an emergency landing was being attempted. With all power lost, the helicopter fell from an altitude of about 200 feet onto an uneven river bank, rolled over and burst into flames. Eight people somehow managed to survive.
William was one of seven children. He got his first taste of flying when his father took him to the state fair in Iowa, where the family lived before moving to Missouri in the early 1970’s, and he was hooked. He figured the Air Force was the easiest path to a cockpit, so he enlisted on Aug 1, 1985, shortly after graduating from high school in Houston, Missouri. His career had taken him overseas several times and he always lugged along his golf clubs — a second passion.
When asked why he did such dangerous things, William said, “That’s what I do. It’s my job.” William had been among the first troops to deploy to Afghanistan after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks and for the U. S. invasion of Iraq. When his sister, Janet Kaut, heard of the helicopter going down, she knew he would die because he would have done anything he could to save those who were with him. He loved the men that he served with; they were his brothers. His ‘brothers’ nicknamed him ‘Scooter’ because he was always a step ahead of everyone else. William was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for helping rescue a downed American pilot in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. He refused to give up, despite dangerous conditions, and brought the soldier home.
He is survived by his wife and a 15-year-old daughter who lives in Arkansas.
William was buried on January 21, 2004. An honor guard preceded a horse-drawn caisson containing a single flag-draped coffin with the remains of the five servicemen killed in the crash; Air Force Maj Steven Plumhoff, Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Walkup Jr, Air Force Tech Sgt. Howard Walters, Sgt. Phillip Albert, and Air Force Tech Sgt. Kerwood. Because their remains were commingled, the five received a single burial. All five names appear on a single tombstone.
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