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U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Hulbert Frederick “Rick” Weitzel Jr., Colonel, USAF (Retired)February 14, 1923 – January 30, 2017
Hulbert Frederick “Rick” Weitzel, Jr., of Dripping Springs, son of the late Hulbert Frederick Weitzel, Sr., and late Clara Lois Robertson Weitzel, was born on February 14, 1923, in El Campo, Texas.
He graduated salutatorian of Crescent High School, Wharton, Texas, at the age of 16, and went on to attend Schreiner College, The University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Houston, earning his Associate in Arts, Bachelor of Business Administration, and Master of Business Administration. He was a member of the First Baptist Church in Dripping Springs, and lent his carpentry and construction skills to help build the then-new church sanctuary between 1978 and 1981.
Colonel Weitzel was nearing the end of the fall 1941 semester at The University of Texas and looking forward to the upcoming baseball season and competition for a spot in the pitching rotation when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He joined the United States Army on the following day and headed off to basic training and flight school on December 19, 1941. During World War II, he flew fighter sorties and bombing runs over Europe, then fighter sorties over Africa and the Middle East, and finally over the Pacific. In 1946 he left the Army Air Corps to return to college.
After graduation, Colonel Weitzel longed for the skies and flight and returned to the military, this time as a member of the newly-formed United States Air Force, seeing action again as a fighter pilot in the Korean War. Between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Colonel Weitzel qualified to fly, and logged time in, every type of aircraft utilized by the Air Force except the SR-71 Blackbird, though he logged time testing its predecessor, the YF-12. In that same time, he also taught Aerospace Science at Texas A&M University for four year years. Colonel Weitzel would later be in the running to join the space program, but war took him halfway around the world again.
During the Vietnam War, Colonel Weitzel was among a select group of distinguished airmen chosen to perform special operations and was later elevated to Chief of Special Operations for the 7th and 13th Air Force, overseeing all Air Force special operations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and serving as the 7/13 Air Force’s command representative in the Pacific Special Operations Command. Working in conjunction with other special operators from the Army, Navy, and Marines, Colonel Weitzel was often required to venture deep behind enemy lines. Many of his missions remain classified to this day.
Colonel Weitzel was a recipient of the Air Force Cross as the sole surviving pilot of a top secret mission. He was also the recipient of three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Distinguished Service Medal, and multiple Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, Air Medals, a Purple Heart, and numerous other citations and awards. On more than a dozen occasions Colonel Weitzel volunteered for rescue missions and, despite facing “numerically superior hostile forces,” successfully rescued more than a hundred combat survivors during the course of the war, scraping the tree tops on one rescue mission after far exceeding the carrying capacity of his CH-3E helicopter.
In 1972, with President Nixon demanding that he return home to an intelligence position in the Pentagon and after being elevated to Chief of Supply for the entire Air Force, Colonel Weitzel abruptly retired and returned to Texas with his wife, Nong. He spent his early retirement camping, hunting, and fishing before returning briefly to national service with the Central Intelligence Agency. After leaving the CIA, he started a commercial construction company in Austin and participated in several large construction projects in the area, including the Downtown Hyatt Hotel.
In the early 1980s he retired for good. An avid hunter and conservationist, Colonel Weitzel hunted all over the world and was a member of organizations as disparately varied as The World Wildlife Fund, The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Safari Club International, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited. He strongly believed that conservation efforts would be difficult or impossible without reasonable hunting and fishing practices and vice versa.
Colonel Weitzel passed peacefully at the age of 93 on January 30, 2017.
He is survived by his wife, Nong; son, Rick, and wife, Kari, and grandchildren, Trevor and Jacklyn; son, Bruce, and wife, Rosann; daughter, Karen; son, Clive, and wife, Theresa; son, Travis, and wife, Nicole; daughter, Debra; and son, Drew; grandchildren, Trevor, Jackie, Lisa, Paul, Kelly, Ryan, Cole, Rex, and Hugo; great-grandchildren Emma and Jack; sister, Yuva Cheek; nephew, Truett Cheek, and wife, Pat; niece, Mary Swearingen; and niece, Martha McCray; and a host of loved grand-nieces and -nephews, cousins, and friends.
Funeral services will be held at the First Baptist Church of Dripping Springs, Pastor David Smith officiating, at 2:00 on Friday, February 3, 2017. Burial will follow at the Phillips Cemetery, Dripping Springs.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Feb. 2 to Feb. 3, 2017
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