Spring City hero served twice in three wars

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - This story was re­searched by Don Wam­bold, WCMSC. For more sto­ries on Ch­ester County vet­er­ans, visit the Ch­ester County Hall of He­roes web­site www.ch­esco.org/he­roes.

Ed­i­tor’s Note: The fol­low­ing was sub­mit­ted by Ch­ester County Hall of He­roes. This is one of an oc­ca­sional story

Emer­son sat in the pi­lot’s seat of the huge EC-121 ‘Warn­ing Star’ air­craft, pre­par­ing for the mis­sion from Thai­land. The air­craft was a mil­i­tary ver­sion of the Lock­heed Su­per Con­stel­la­tion for Air­borne early warn­ing and con­trol radar sur­veil­lance. Emer­son had thou­sands of hours of ex­pe­ri­ence. Scat­tered se­vere thun­der storms were re­ported, but this was an im­por­tant mis­sion and it was to be his last com­bat mis­sion.

Emer­son was hop­ing his pro­tégé Master Sergeant But­ler, who was due to ar­rive, would join him on his last flight. Emer­son re­ceived clear­ance and took off, but ran into a sud­den vi­o­lent storm.

Emer­son Earl Heller was born on July 24, 1926 to Wil­liam and Martha Heller. He was the sec­ond of 4 chil­dren, in­clud­ing Wil­liam, Mar­grie and Ken­neth.

Emer­son grad­u­ated from Spring City High School in 1941, and con­tin­ued his ed­u­ca­tion at Ursi­nus Col­lege. He left be­fore grad­u­a­tion to en­list in the Army Air Corps in Au­gust 1942 as an avi­a­tion cadet. Emer­son was called into ser­vice on Jan. 30, 1943. He re­ceived pri­mary and ad­vance flight train­ing as well as a 5 months of stud­ies at Wit­ten­burg Col­lege in Ohio, and was com­mis­sioned as a sec­ond Lieu­tenant on May 23, 1944. Emer­son was trained to fly B-17 Fly­ing Fortress Bombers and was sent to Eng­land in late 1944. He re­quested he be as­signed to his broth­ers bomb squadron, the 359th Hell’s An­gels”. He flew 31 com­bat mis­sions be­fore the war ended.

After the war Emer­son was dis­charged, en­listed in the Re­serves and mar­ried Theresa Guida from Rah­way, N.J.. He en­joyed bowl­ing, bas­ket­ball and paint­ing in his

spare time.

Emer­son was re­called to ac­tive duty in Au­gust 1947, to help or­ga­nize the new Air Force which was sep­a­rated from the Army as an in­de­pen­dent branch of our Armed Forces. He served at sev­eral bases and po­si­tions in­clud­ing Spokane, Wash­ing­ton and Puerto Rico and re­ceived cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to fly B-29 Su­per Fortress Bombers. Emer­son be­came in­ter­ested in Air Sea Res­cue and the po­ten­tial of Ro­tary Winged Air­craft.

Dur­ing the Korean War, Emer­son served two tours of duty, 1951-52 and 1955-56. He served as the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of De­tach­ment 1, 3rd ARS (Air Sea Res­cue).

In May 1952 he staged a dar­ing res­cue of Cap­tain Clarence Truxbury, a Ma­rine Pi­lot fly­ing a F4U Cor­sair who was shot down in the icy ocean off North Korea. The Am­phibi­ous res­cue air­craft could not land due to the 15 foot waves and ice filled wa­ters. Emer­son came to the res­cue fly­ing a Siko­rsky H-5 He­li­copter. The Ma­rine pi­lot’s hands were so numb he could not grasp the hoist ca­ble. So Emer­son vi­o­lently ma­neu­vered the he­li­copter to wrap the ca­ble around the Truxbury to pull him up. And this was his sec­ond res­cue in 4 days.

Dur­ing his sec­ond tour Emer­son do­nated and raised money to send his Korean House­boy to col­lege, to study physics and en­gi­neer­ing.

After the Korean War, Emer­son re­turned state­side for duty as Squadron Com­man­der at McClel­lan AFB in Cal­i­for­nia, and later as­signed to Madrid, Spain from 1963-66.

Re­turn­ing from Spain he re­ceived his fi­nal as­sign­ment as a pi­lot in the 554th “Bat­cats” Re­con­nais­sance Squadron based at Ko­rat Royal Thai Air Force Base. The Bat­cats flew in­tel­li­gence mis­sions over Viet­nam dur­ing the war.

On April 25, 1969 he flew his last com­bat mis­sion be­fore re­tir­ing. The se­vere

Storm forced the EC-121 down, Heller was only able to gain a few hun­dred feet of al­ti­tude after tak­ing off. Emer­son made a pretty good belly land­ing, but then they hit trees which broke up the air­craft and with a full load of fuel, and quickly caught fire.

Colonel Emer­son Heller from Spring City was buried in Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery.

Master Sergeant David But­ler who hoped to join Emer­son on that flight posted:

“Lt. Col. Emer­son E. Heller was my Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer at the USAFE Madrid Flight Ser­vice De­tach­ment, Madrid, Spain, 1963-1966. We were a small or­ga­ni­za­tion of about 20 Of­fi­cers and Air­men to­tal. He was very kind to a young Air­man who at 18 was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all the as­pects of life first hand in a great city. More than once he had a fa­therly talk with me and ex­plained the er­ror of my young ways and for this I will al­ways be grate­ful. Three years lat­ter when I was en route to my new base in Ko­rat, Thai­land to be air­crew with the 553rd Recon Wing “Bat­cat’s”, Lt.Col. Heller was work­ing in the 553rd Com­mand Post and saw my name on the new com­ers’ ros­ter and was able to get hold of me in Jun­gle School in the Philip­pines. It was a great sur­prise to hear from him as he ex­plained he was go­ing on his last flight be­fore re­tire­ment after thirty years of ser­vice in a few days. He said ac­cord­ing to the sched­ule I would be com­ing in and I could join him on that last flight and I said I looked for­ward to it. As life will have it, I didn’t get out of Bangkok as planned and I reached Ko­rat on the day he and his crew per­ished on take off.”


Lt. Col. Emer­son E. Heller of Spring City in the cock­pit dur­ing one of his tours.


Lt. Col. Emer­son E. Heller

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