KILLEEN — Army Aviation’s primary mission is to support commanders and troops on the ground, and retired Army Lt. Col. Reggie Bass, 78, heroically fulfilled that mission during Vietnam earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses, an Air Medal for Valor and the Purple Heart Medal.
But soft-spoken Bass tells his stories humbly, giving credit to his flight crews and the troops on the ground.
“I guess some of the soldiers saw us do our duty and thought we did a good job, so they recommended us for the medals,” said Bass.
The son of a local grocer, Louis Reginald “Reggie” Bass was born in Killeen in 1938 and always knew he wanted to fly.
“I built model airplanes dreaming about flying one,” he said.
Inspired by his step-father, Bass went into ROTC at Kansas State University and joined the Army in 1961. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., as an infantry officer then attended flight school in 1964 at Fort Rucker, Ala.
From 1965 to 1966, Bass was assigned to the 14th Aviation Battalion, piloting the CV-2B DeHavilland Caribou. His job was to drop supplies and ammunition to Special Forces camps, “A-Teams,” which meant flying low; making the airplane a target for enemy fire.
“I saw the remnants of several aircraft previously shot down doing the same job,” he said.
During one mission in A Shau Valley, Bass’s aircraft came under heavy enemy fire, but he flew over the camp dropping supplies. For Bass’ action, and that of the crew, each received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
During his second tour, 1967 to 1968, Bass flew the UH-1C Iroquois “Huey” helicopter gunship and was assigned to the 12th Aviation Group. While supporting an American infantry unit under attack north of Saigon, he destroyed an enemy bunker with machine gun fire and received the Air Medal for Valor.
It was during the TET Offensive in 1968 that Bass’s gunship was involved in a battle with North Vietnamese troops near Saigon. He blew up an enemy site, but the aircraft was severely damaged. Though wounded in the leg, Bass managed to land the helicopter near a hospital where he was treated and later evacuated to Fort Hood. He was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.
After his recovery, Bass was assigned to III Corps Flight Detachment flying VIPs. He also taught ROTC for four years before retiring from active duty in 1976. Then he served 13 years in the Army Reserve, retiring in 1991. In all, he served 28 years. While in the Reserves, Bass worked as a bank manager at 1st Texas Bank from 1976 to 2003, when he retired. His most recent aviation honor came in March when he received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 accident-free and violation-free years while piloting an aircraft.
Bass remains active with various organizations, like the Military Officers Association of America and the Lion’s Club, among others. He especially loves to share the joy of flying with children, having flown over 100 local youth through the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Young Eagles Program.
“I’m encouraged when I find youngsters interested in flying, because we need pilots in both the military and civilian worlds,” he said.
His wife of 46-years, Janet, is his co-pilot on trips to visit their extended family all over the country. Unlike some pilots’ wives, she is not afraid to fly with her husband.
“I feel so privileged to be up there with him on these adventures,” she said.
Now Reggie Bass flies his Beechcraft Bonanza airplane every few weeks.
“I like to bore holes in the sky to keep the plane and my mind sharp,” he laughed. “As long as I can pass the FAA physical exam, and get vertical every day, I’ll fly.”