WO-2 Robert Rodenhouse flew with the ‘Cat Killers’ in Vietnam in ’71-72

With a low draft number of 43, Robert Rodenhouse of Venice, Fla. knew he was about to be drafted in 1970 during the middle of the Vietnam War. So he volunteered for the Army. After basic at For Knox, Ky. he decided there must be a better job in the Army than gun toter in Vietnam.

“I asked my company commander if there wasn’t something better,” he recalled almost 50 years later. “He told me there were a couple of flight school opening, but 300 had already applied for them.

“I had a pilot’s license. My father had flown 35 combat missions off Tinian in the Pacific as the pilot of a B-17 and B-29 bomber during the Second World War. Aviation was in my blood, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

“I took a battery of tests and eventually became a warrant officer qualified to fly fixed-wing planes. Three months after graduating from flight school at Fort Stuart, Ga. I got orders to go to Vietnam,” Rodenhouse said.

“I flew an L-19 Cessna “Bird Dog.” That was a spotter plane used to locate enemy positions,” he explained. “When we found the enemy we called in their position and F-4 fighter-bombers, Army artillery, or the Navy’s big guns took care of the problem.”

In Vietnam he was attached to the “Cat Killers.” Specifically he flew for the 220th Air Reconnaissance Company mostly out of Hue Phu Bai.

“We flew as much as we could when the weather was good. Some months we would fly as many as 27 combat missions. I flew in Vietnam from September 1971 until February of ’72,” he recalled. ”At 20 we were invincible. The other guy was the one who was gonna get shot down, not us.”

The closest Rodenhouse came to ‘buying the farm.’ was during an early training mission when he first arrived in country.

“We were flying just above the rice paddies when someone opened up on us with an AK-47. We were flying far lower than the 500-feet that was supposed to be our minimum altitude,” he said.

Robert Rodenhouse in Vietnam where he spent his time with the “Cat Killers” as an Army pilot. Photo provided

When they returned to base Rodenhouse and his instructor discovered their plane’s wing were riddled with AK-47 bullet holes. No one was injured and after their plane was patched up they took to the sky the following day.

Rodenhouse caught more flak from Vietnam protesters going home than he did in the sky over Vietnam.

“I flew into Travis Air Force Base in Califorinia from Vietnam with some others who were being discharged,” he explained. “We ran into a bunch of Vietnam war protesters when we left the base. When I got back home to Grand Rapids, Mich. there were other protesters waiting for anyone wearing a military uniform.”

“I returned to Western Michigan University and completed my engineering degree,” he said. “For a while after graduation I taught others how to fly. I was an instructor pilot.

“Then I got into selling construction equipment. I sold bucket lifts and things like that. In 1983 I launched my own business. I developed building insulation products and hold 17 patents on these products. I’ve done pretty well with these patents.

Sitting in his recently acquired condo, across the street from the Venice Airport, Rodenhouse said with a smile, “I’m very pleased how life has treated me. I have my dream home a short walk from my 1946 Piper Super Cruiser. I can fly every day.”

Name: Robert Henry Rodenhouse
D.O.B: 8 August 1949
Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI
Currently: Venice, FL
Entered Service: 22 March 1970
Discharged: 1 March 1972
Rank: Warrant Officer 2nd Class
Unit: 220th Air Reconnaissance Company
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Army Aviation Badge, Good Conduct Medal

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, and is republished with permission.

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  1. I flew a few times with Catkiller out of Phu Bai in 1965 as an artillery guy attached to an infantry battalion (3rd Battalion, 4th Marines) My callsign then was Primrose India 22. My former neighbor in Manassas VA was retired colonel David Mansfield Latimer, USA who flew with Catkiller in 1966 or so, also out of Phu Bai. Small world gents. Regards to CW2 Rodenhouse. Semper Fi
    Joe Featherston, Aiken, SC

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