Chippewa Falls Vietnam War veteran thanked on national TV

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 6:24 PM CST
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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) - A Chippewa Falls veteran got national attention this month as he was thanked by a Today Show meteorologist for saving his father’s life during the Vietnam war in 1969.

Today Show meteorologist Bill Karins took time on November 11th, Veterans Day, to say thank you to Lonnie Heidtke for saving Bill Karins Sr. from a helicopter crash.

Heidtke spent about a year in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief.

“101st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 101st Airborne Division,” Heidtke said.

In April of 1969, before the heroic rescue, Heidtke sustained a gunshot wound in the back. After he healed, Heidtke was back on his feet ready.

On May 31st, 1969, Heidtke took part in a special forces operation.

Heidtke’s helicopter flew in the rear. Another helicopter was in front and Karins’ was the pilot.

They were flying over the demilitarized zone when Karins’ helicopter took fire and went down.

“The pilot has his right hand on the cycling stick, which is controlling the forward and sideways motion of the helicopter, and he took a round through his right forearm,” Heidtke said. “When that happened, it just went like that, sideways. and they went into the ground at 120 miles per hour.”

Heidtke says the downed chopper landed on its side and surprisingly didn’t catch on fire.

Heidtke’s helicopter landed near the crash.

A door gunman and the co-pilot from the crash were able to make their way to Heidtke’s aircraft. That’s when Heidtke sprung into action.

“So, I got out of the helicopter, I said to them on the intercom system, I said to the pilot, I‘m going to get out and get him and my pilot said you better...and I unplugged,” Heidtke said. “I didn’t hear what else he said but I think he was going to tell me to stay in the helicopter.”

Heidtke and his right door gunman got out and made their way to the crash site.

“Bill Karins was hanging out, he was laying on the ground,” Heidtke said. “I didn’t know both his legs were broken. He’s laying on the ground, bleeding from the arm.”

Heidtke along with his door gunman, a medic, and a South Vietnamese special forces captain, was able to get three people out from the wreck.

“So, we’ve got an unconscious special forces captain, warrant officer pilot, and an unconscious crew chief from the other helicopter,” Heidtke said.

While on an active battlefield, Heidtke and his crew were able to get the rescued men to a relatively safe spot until they could be extracted.

“There was another bomb crater conveniently,” Heidtke said. “I said well we should go, that way we can get below ground level because there were AK47 rounds impacting around us.”

Heidtke says he’s not a hero, but rather served in a company of hero’s.

Today Show meteorologist Bill Karins offered to buy Heidtke dinner and drinks, but they have not yet met in person.

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