American Veteran 01

Norman Fred Mueller

June 13, 1925 ~ May 10, 2023 (age 97) 97 Years Old


Here is a summary of Norm's life by his children, Sherry and Rand:

On every grave marker is a date of birth, then a dash, and then the date of death.  It has been said that “Life is about the dash” – what happens between the dates. Following are comments stemming from Sherry and Rand attempting to share with you the dash of Norman F. Mueller


Dad and his younger brother were born at home in St. Louis. At age three, he was walking downtown with his mother and saw in a store window a poster of Charles Lindberg landing “Spirt of St Louis” after the historic transatlantic crossing.  He asked his mother what that was about. From that day forward he knew someday he would fly.

At age 12, Dad lived in the country and learned to drive a tractor and truck from a farm neighbor.  He would go to Boy Scout Troop meetings in Columbia, Illinois, and St. Louis, MO, reaching the rank of Eagle Scout.  At Camp Vandeventor he was camp naturalist catching turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, rabbits, and squirrels and putting them in cages.  He had a lifelong interest in nature and particularly snakes which we will talk about more later…


As a teenager, he was an average student until he was interested in a particular girl who was very good at math and he wanted to impress her.  As a result, he became an honor student and received a scholarship for engineering at Washington University of St. Louis, MO.  Dad earned his private pilot license.  One day while he was flying a Stinson the engine quit.  Crashing into a grove of trees is no good for a small plane. But Dad saw one giant oak tree with a gap between two great branches.  Ever the composed pilot, he fit the fuselage between the tree branches, shearing off the wings but allowing the fuselage to remain intact.  He had two collapsed lungs and was told he would never fly again. Dad had a lifelong habit of not listening to anyone that told him anything contrary to his desires.


In his second term at college, he was called to active duty.  He was playing touch football one day awaiting basic training when he injured his back.  He was in the hospital for two weeks and was offered a medical discharge.  He refused that and persisted on entering his career in the military. While he was bent on being a pilot, the Army Air Corps had other ideas and trained him as a navigator.  But before going to training dad decided if he couldn’t be a pilot he would get out and others thought they would decline too.  That caused the Colonel to address them saying “you can be an unhappy Lieutenant navigator in the Army Air Corps, or you can be an unhappy private in the Army.  He selected navigator training. By the end of WWII he was General Curtis LeMay’s personal navigator. 

On one mission, the co-pilot and then the pilot lost consciousness.  Dad flew the plane 700 miles back toward the base, but as they approached, they were ordered to bail out over the water and let the plane crash. Dad thought that too perilous for the unconscious pilots, so he told the crew that they were welcome to bail but he was going to land that plane. They unanimously decided to stay with him.

After landing safely, medics rushed the pilot and co-pilot to the hospital leaving Dad to button up the plane. He had been late to eat dinner and had not eaten as much as the others, but now, alone, he succumbed to the same fate as the copilot and pilot and passed out under the aircraft. He was not discovered for hours and was in a coma for 4 days. The cause? Some disgruntled cook had put soap flakes in the mashed potatoes. Dad received the Distinguished Flying Cross and an offer to attend West Point to complete his education or the duty of his choice. Dad’s response: Make me a pilot.

A side note on pilot training:  there were 600 in his pilot training, 400 washed out, and of the remaining 200, he was the top graduate.

To understand the significance of what comes next, we need to set the stage with two brief tangents. First, have you ever heard the story of runners trying to beat the 4-minute mile? No one could, even after decades of trying. The experts had all sorts of explanations for why it was impossible. Then, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister did it. Only 46 days later it was broken again. Within a year 3 runners all beat 4 minutes in the same race. Someone just had to show them it could be done.

The second tangent focuses on General Curtis Lemay. When the allied bombing campaign of Germany was failing, it was Curtis Lemay that revamped everything. We destroyed Germany’s war machine industry and won that war.  Next, the B-29 program, and bombing campaign of Japan was an utter disaster. It was the single most expensive program of the war and years of bombing attempts had literally zero results. In came Curtis Lemay who reworked everything and bombed Japan’s industry into oblivion and we won again. 

Just a few years after WW2 the US now faced a new threat, the nuclear armed Soviet Union and General Lemay was put in charge of the Strategic Air Command or SAC to combat the threat. LeMay reasoned that whether we could stop a nuclear attack or not, the ramifications were too horrific to imagine so the only plausible solution was to make such an attack too painful to ever try. And the policy known as mutually assured destruction was born. But the Russians had 5400 interceptor aircraft, the high surface-to-air to air missiles and a 3-level radar we could not get over. New to the US arsenal, however, was a sleek new sports car of a bomber called the B-47.

The idea was to fly in under the radar, loft a nuke with a half loop, then roll over and get out. There were just 3 problems. 1) None of the pilots were willing to fly so low. They feared bird strikes which at 100 feet would surely result in crashing. But Dad figured if he could thread an unpowered aircraft through tree branches, he could miss the birds. He flew flight after flight 100 feet above ground without a single bird strike. Compared to a B-47 flying at 450 kts, the birds were essentially stationary. He just flew over or under them.  Like Bannister’s 4-minute mile, Dad had done the impossible and all the pilots now knew it could be done. Problem #2) Accuracy.  Flying the intended maneuver, the pilots could not get anywhere near the intended target. They were 6 miles short. 10 miles long. 3 miles wide. Then Dad began to demonstrate an ability no one else had. He got to where he could fly in under the radar, loft a nuke and literally put it into a spot the size of a single football field.  If his target was the 50-yard line, it would land between the 2 goal posts. Every time. Another 4-minute mile had been broken. He then taught all the other pilots how to do it.  And the third problem was the B-47s short range. As the first jet powered US bomber it was just a big gas tank with wings and a bomb. To make it to Russia it had to be refueled.  To make it back home, it had to be refueled again. Lemay was concerned with how many planes and crews would be lost to unsuccessful refueling attempts. I once asked Dad what his proudest moment as a pilot was. He told me of a mission to demonstrate successful refueling no matter what. Normally the B-47 would fly in formation just below and behind the tanker. In the tail of the tanker aircraft, a boom operator would essentially fly the delivery hose over to and insert it into a receiver port on the B-47. Then fuel would flow by gravity for the next 30 minutes or so. But on this mission the boom was dead and could not move.

Dad flew his craft up to the boom and made contact and ordered the fuel flow. He then maintained continuous contact for 45 minutes. It took that long because the whole time the tanker aircraft was doing evasive maneuvers flying to the left, jerking to the right, then jerking back to the left… at night … with no lights … and radio silence. Curtis Lemay had his demonstration and knew that SAC could, and if necessary, would, fulfil its role in mutually assured destruction if the Soviets ever attacked. They never did.

Korean War

Because his was the best crew in SAC, when the US first developed the Hydrogen bomb 1000 times more powerful than the A Bomb. We initially had exactly one. And it was put on Dad’s plane.  Thus, when the US had had enough of the Korean war, and they told the North Koreans that they would either agree to a ceasefire or Pyongyang would be reduced to waste, it was Dad and his crew sitting on a runway in Japan, alone, waiting on the order. It never came. North Korea agreed to the ceasefire.  The war, for all intents and purposes, was over.

Me and my entire generation grew up with the threat of eminent nuclear annihilation always in the background. It never came. I am awed when I realize that the peace we lived under for decades was in no small part the result of the singular accomplishments of our father breaking unthinkable barriers. Doing what no one else could or would do. He is a hero to us. He should be a hero to all of America.

Space Testing

Dad had been interested in the space program when NASA was created but he was told at age 35 he was too old to be an astronaut.  However, he did get an opportunity to contribute to the space program.  At Wright Pat AFB he would wear astronaut Deke Slayton’s space suit, fly in a specially outfitted KC135 used to simulate zero gravity.  While free floating, he attempted to do tasks with tools which were also floating around him. You can imagine with no torque it was difficult to turn a bolt and nut without him turning too. As a result, Velcro was developed to secure tools with easy release and re-hold. It is a fact that our dad has the dubious distinction of being the first person to vomit in zero gravity. Because no one had ever done this before, it was a big deal, he aspirated it and we almost lost him.  Since then, they have found that virtually everyone vomits when they first experience zero gravity.  The aircraft is known, even today, as the “Vomit comet.”

Education was always important to dad.  In Ohio, he graduated first in his class with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering.  At Maxwell AFB Air University, he received a Military Science and Tactics MS degree. 

Eglin AFB

During the Cuban Missile crisis, dad had flown from Eglin AFB in Florida and fell in love with the area. So, in 1963, with his choice of assignments, we moved to Fort Walton Beach.

He became an experimental test pilot at Eglin to make sure weapons were compatible with airplanes.  Eglin was involved in developing air-to-air missiles, rockets, and bombs.  There were 19 types of combat airplanes, and Dad flew most of those.  He told us he had flown 35 different types of aircraft. Off time was spent sailing.  We would spend half of many a Saturday sailing from our house to Crab Island and in the late 1960s there was an actual island. We would picnic on the beach then spend the remainder of the day sailing back in a 19.5-foot British designed solid mahogany boat called a Seagull. There were exactly 2 Seagulls in the US. My Uncle Don had the other one.

Personal Farm Story

So living with dad was “what are we doing for excitement tomorrow.”  For instance, as a Florida resident and father of a horse crazy girl, he ended up purchasing a farm in Dorcus for six horses.  On the way to his second Vietnam deployment, he stopped at a cattle auction in Texas and had a dozen calves shipped to the farm.  Who does that?  My boyfriend and I had to put the calves in a pen and figure out how to get them to the pasture 200 feet away.  Cowgirl Sherry thought she would lasso the smallest calf and tote it to the pasture.  It’s a lot harder than it looks in a rodeo.  Then there was a Charlette heifer with horns that I planned to lasso and use it to lead the others to the pasture. That backfired when I lassoed the horns, she rolled her eyes and collapsed on the ground.  You can imagine my distress when I thought “Oh no I killed dad’s calf”. Fortunately, it just passed out.  And the boyfriend was not scared off by this bit of Mueller adventure as he became my husband.

Survival Training

While military are required to do Survival Training, his included Mountain, Ocean, Desert, Arctic and Jungle.  His Jungle Survival took place in the Philippines where Pygmies were excellent trackers and the were given 3 pounds of rice for each dog tag surrendered by those they caught.  He knew he was being tailed and burrowed himself into leaves.  Ants and other bugs began to crawl all over him.  He was about to go nuts when he realized they were not biting him, so he stuck it out.  A Pygmy passed within 6 feet of him, not sensing him.  He was the only one at the pick-up point when the helicopter arrived.


Dad did two tours in Vietnam.  His first tour he worked closely with Green Berets. Dad was Chief Forward Air Controller (or FAC for short) in the Central Highlands for one year in 1966-1967.  A FAC’s job was to fly around looking for the VC. Once spotted they would mark the position with a white phosphorous smoke rocket and call in close air support to strafe or bomb that spot. On one occasion the Green Berets called for help, they were surrounded by Vietcong and in danger of being annihilated.  Dad brought in American and Vietnamese close air support, and they took out the VC.  The Green Berets presented Dad with a mounted chrome plated AK-47 rifle captured from the North Vietnamese.

He purchased a 16-foot python at a local market to give to the Green Beret camp animal collection. When Dad had negotiated the price for the snake with the Montagnard native, he misunderstood the basket containing the snake was not part of the purchase, so he had to put it in a duffle bag behind the seat of his 01E Birddog for the return to the camp.  During the flight the snake gained its freedom by flexing its muscles and ripping the bag open.  It crawled under the seat and wrapped around the rudder pedals. This caused him to have an uncharacteristically awkward landing so the ground crew thought he was injured and rushed to assist him.  When the crew flung the door open, he was face to face with a snake as big around as a soda can. This became a feature story in the Air Force Times, with Dad and the snake pictured on the front cover.  This story was also an entire chapter of a book written about forward air controllers aptly named “A Duck in Search of Hunters”. The VC would generally not shoot at a FAC unless they knew they had been spotted.  Then it was open season.

Hilliard Wilbanks was a FAC under Dad who came from a very small town in Mississippi. On one occasion, he spotted a group of VC positioning themselves to ambush several dozen friendly forces.  With no marker rockets left, he did the only thing he could think of to alert the friendly forces to the threat. He circled close above the VC and attempted to pin them down by firing his M-16 through the window of his plane. His plan had worked. The friendlies had been alerted. Dad had just come on scene with a fresh supply of marking rockets when to his horror Wilbanks’ plane suddenly leveled out flying away and slowly descending. He knew Wilbanks had been hit and followed till the Wilbanks plane settled upside down in tall grass. Dad landed nearby and rushed to the scene. He got a badly injured Wilbanks into his own plane and rushed him toward a hospital. Wilbanks did not make it to the hospital. It was for this incident that Dad was awarded the Silver Star. He was deeply affected by this affair and often visited the Wilbanks family. He also worked relentlessly with Congressman Bob Sikes till Wilbanks was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Dad also helped set up the Hilliard C. Wilbanks Medal of Honor Memorial Scholarship Foundation.  

On his second tour, Dad had been taught Vietnamese and worked as an advisor to the South Vietnamese forces. He also worked with the local school and taught English. He was really impressed with two young women and arranged to have them come to the states to finish out their schooling.  One thing led to another, and they both ended up living with us for several years. I am happy to say Van is here today and Tuyet tried her best, but it didn’t work out. After Vietnam fell in 1975 thousands of refugees fled South Vietnam and were settled in several refugee camps around the US.  One camp was at Eglin and Dad’s last official duty prior to retirement was to be the Commandant of the Eglin Refugee Camp. The former Vietnamese citizens were stuck in these camps till they got American sponsors who could ensure they got settled into whatever community they ended up in.  He eventually got all of Van’s family here and they lived at a farm Dad had northeast of Crestview. I believe Dad personally sponsored 35 individuals and stayed at the camp until all had been resettled.

In his military career, he had flown around the world 3 times, and been to the Artic 3 times.  He was awarded 21 medals, the highest being Silver Star (the highest short of the Medal of Honor), Bronze Star and Distinguished Flying Cross.


He was a private pilot, had his own Beechcraft, and hosted fly-ins at his hangar in Montana for aircraft returning to the West Coast from the annual Oshkosh air show.  An avid sailor he and two friends sailed a 35-foot sailboat from Lisbon Portugal to Barbados to commemorate Columbus’s journey in 1492,

Things Sherry remembers doing with dad growing up: Primitive camping and sailing at Lake Kanopolis a 5 square mile lake in the middle of Kansas; Dad taking on the responsibility of a horse while completing his bachelor’s degree for his horse crazy daddy’s girl; In Florida, this turned into an 80-acre “farm” in Dorcas with 30 head of cattle and 6 horses; And sailboat races in Choctaw Bay.

Rand has fond memories of building winning Cub Scout pinewood derby cars, three 5-day 50-mile Boy Scout canoe trips which Dad organized, sailing in the Bahamas for 30 days in a 21-foot sloop, rebuilding a car engine at the base hobby shop, and painting 3 vehicles there together. On the farm, we built a huge pole barn which is probably still there. On one occasion we needed a half mile of fencing – fast. Dad came up with the technique: Sharpen one end of 3” wood posts, put a hose clamp on the other end to keep it from splitting, with one person holding the post, the other would pound it into the ground with a sledgehammer while standing on the tailgate of the pickup truck with the posts in it, then drive to the next spot. Sight, place, pound, drive, repeat… We put in a half mile fence in a matter of hours – 3 strands of wire and all. Later, we worked together on a gold mining project in the mountains of Montana. And Dad eventually moved there.

When Dad moved back to Florida, he accompanied us to Denmark to meet our long-lost cousins on our mother’s side.  In Fort Walton, he stayed active joining the seniors swim workout five times a week and mowing his lawn. We were able to make many more family memories. In his wake are 6 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren to date.

That was life with father.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Norman Fred Mueller, please visit our floral store.


May 16, 2023

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
McLaughlin Mortuary
17 Chestnut Avenue SE
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548

Celebration of Life
May 16, 2023

11:00 AM
McLaughlin Mortuary of Fort Walton Beach


Beal Memorial Cemetery, Fort Walton Beach, Florida


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