Dick Ordway put his Vietnam experience to good use.
The former helicopter pilot was determined that the newest helicopters would perform better in combat. He retired in 2008 as the deputy project manager for Apache Attack Helicopter Project Office.
“It provided the experience I could apply through the rest of my career working on new Apache helicopters making sure those problems that I experienced were not repeated,” Ordway said.
The Morristown, Tennessee, native moved with his family to Decatur and he graduated from Decatur High School in 1959. He spent two years studying engineering at Vanderbilt University but decided engineering wasn’t for him. He got a music scholarship to the University of North Alabama and entered ROTC.
Ordway graduated from UNA in 1965 and received his commission as an infantry officer. Then he attended Airborne and Ranger School. His first Vietnam tour was 1966-67 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade as an infantry platoon leader based out of Bien Hoa.
“It was very interesting to say the least,” Ordway said. “My first tour I spent a lot of time in the jungle, learned a great deal about managing people.”
He returned to Fort Benning, Georgia, and was working in the Ranger department as an instructor. Ordway decided to pursue flight training and helicopters.
He went back to Vietnam as a captain in 1972, assigned to the 62nd Aviation Company out of Da Nang as a helicopter pilot and operations officer. Ordway flew 1,200 combat hours in the UH-1 Huey during the yearlong tour.
“Doing what it took to survive and be effective,” he said of his two years in Vietnam. “I learned a considerable amount from my experience in Vietnam both as an infantry officer waiting for helicopters and as a helicopter pilot not being able to get service when needed and so forth. So I carried that forward with me.”
In 1973 he went to Fort Eustis, Virginia, assigned to the aviation logistics school in combat developments. He received his master’s from Central Michigan University. He left the Army as a major with 10 years of service. As a civilian he joined Army aviation in St. Louis. Ordway was chief of the logistics management division when the aviation mission moved from St. Louis to Redstone Arsenal in 1997. He went on to help develop the new Apache helicopter, the Longbow.
Ordway retired with 25 years of government service, including 15 years as a civilian.
“It was good because we were able to work on issues I discovered while I was in Vietnam,” he said.
He and his wife of six years, Lawanna, reside in Madison. His son, Taylor, lives in Ventura, California.
Ordway, 77, used to go sailing but he sold his sailboat in the past year. He walks for 30 minutes every morning. He belongs to the North Alabama Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association.
Ordway shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I think it’s a good idea to help with the understanding of why we were there and what we accomplished,” he said. “It helped the country understand what Vietnam veterans experienced.”
Editor’s note: This is the 247th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.