“My Life Is A Series Of Happy Incidents”: Memories Of A Dustoff Pilot

Frederick R. Grates


Freddy Grates grew up in Frankfort, New York, a second generation American and the oldest of eight children. He was an accomplished wrestler in high school, and Coach “Gov” Campo introduced him to the idea of attending West Point. He was on the wrestling team while at the Academy, and upon graduation, he branched Medical Service Corps, detailed to Air Defense. His first assignment was on the Niagara frontier with six nuclear missiles, defending against Soviet bombers. While there, he met his future wife on a blind date. After returning to the Medical Service Corps, he attended flight school and became an Air Ambulance (Med Evac) pilot. In 1968, he deployed to Vietnam, and was assigned to the 45th Medical Company. After returning from Vietnam, he earned an MBA at Indiana University and was assigned to the Office of the Surgeon General, responsible for Army Nurse recruiting. Following his time at the Pentagon, he was assigned to the Health Services Command, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he served as aide to General Spurgeon Neel, who had developed the concept of using helicopters in the med-evac role. He then entered the world of Health Care Administration, a profession he continued to pursue after leaving the military in 1976. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his wrestling career, and many of the people he knew at West Point, including Bob Arvin and Don Parcells. He describes his time serving with Air Defense, and meeting his wife. He discusses flight training, his experiences in Vietnam flying dustoff missions, some of the valuable lessons he learned, and some of the friends he flew with. He also recounts some of the close calls he had while picking up wounded Soldiers. Finally, he reflects upon what West Point means to him.


name Frederick R. Grates
institution USMA
graduation year 1965
service Medical Service Corps / Air Defense
unit 45th Medical Company (Air Ambulance)
specialty Dustoff Pilot
service dates 1965 1976