Dedicated to the Preservation of the
U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Steven Michael Northern, Sgt., USAF
Date of Death: May 25, 1970
Date of Birth: July 26, 1946
See newspaper clipping below…
Saved 51 Men, Eluded Fate 2 ½ Years In Vietnam
Death of War Hero – Far From Battle Field
By Michael Kruglak, Staff Writer
A 22-year-old Air Force hero, who eluded death for 31 months in Vietnam only to find it waiting for him in a Lynwood steel plant, when home to Midwest City, Okla., today and his final decorations – flowers on a grave next to his father’s.
Steven Northern, a modest, unassuming former paramedic with at least 31 medals for heroism, was killed Monday in an industrial accident. His hand – which had hauled 51 of his fellow men to safety aboard a rescue helicopter during combat tours in Vietnam – caught in the rollers of a machine at Jorgensen Steel Co., and he was pulled to his death.
But the short story in this newspaper Tuesday that recorded the death of a 22-year-old Bellflower industrial worker didn’t match the man with the legend he had built as Sgt. Steven M. Northern, U.S. Air Force. And the legend is this:
A sergeant in a parachute rescue-and-recovery unit, he won five Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Force Cross, three Silver Stars with clusters, five Bronze Stars, with clusters, 15 Air Medals, the Medal of Merit and a Purple Heart.
During his 31 continuous months in Vietnam he was credited with saving 51 lives, a figure unsurpassed in Air Force history, according to his uncle, Richard Northern, of 13908 Carfax St., Bellflower, with whom he lived.
In the Air Force for four years, he twice extended his tour of duty in Vietnam. He returned to civilian life a year ago, and shortly thereafter with grand marshal of the parade preceding the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Steven Northern Week was proclaimed by the governor of Indiana at the time.
The slim, former sergeant liked to describe his job as “a kind of handyman” aboard the helicopters of the rescue force.
His duties included providing covering machine-gun fire on missions, parachuting with scuba diving gear in rescues at sea and giving medical aid to injured airmen.
He achieved his record 51 combat rescues by volunteering to extend his combat tours “because I liked what I was doing.”
“I can’t tell you what it’s like to rescue a man facing death or capture by the enemy,” he said during an interview with The Independent, Press-Telegram last summer.
“But you sure make a friend every time. It’s a great feeling.”
One of those friends is Marine Maj. Curtis Lawson, whom he rescue from a jungle stream in North Vietnam after his helicopter had been drive off four times by enemy fire.
On the fifth attempt, Sgt. Northern kept up a steady fire with his machine gun, burning out the barrel, while the helicopter hovered over the river and Lawson climbed aboard.
This was a simple operation compared with the one that brought Sgt. Northern his Silver Star.
In that instance, he volunteered to be lowered from the helicopter to aid a survivor surrounded by hostile troops and gun positions. He carried the men to the hoist and shielded him with his own body and they were pulled aboard.
Sgt. Northern flew more than 240 combat missions aboard the HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter mostly deep in enemy territory.
After his discharge, he purchased a racing car, and planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, the late Glenn (Pee Wee) Northern, famous spring champion in the Central State Racing Association.
Mr. Northern is survived by his mother, Mrs. Viola Norther, of Midwest City, Okla., a brother, Randy Lee Northern, of San Francisco, a sister, Glennanna Blair of San Francisco, and a grandmother, Mrs. May Northern, of Midwest City.
His Bellflower friends said goodbye to him at service Wednesday night at White’s Mortuary in the city.
The plane that took him back to his father and the dreams they shared left this morning.
Published in the Independent (Long Beach, California) – 28 May 1970, Thu – Page 25