Harold Franklin Chorney – Life Of An Air Force Aviator

Harold Franklin Chorney – Life Of An Air Force Aviator

by Brian Wells

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Harold Franklin Chorney was born on 27 December 1938 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. He is the third born among his four brothers. His parents were immigrants. They came from Romania and Ukraine in order to escape the brutal realities of the country and to find a safe haven against the oppression they faced. They were there in order to search for their American dream.

Education And Early Life:

Chorney attended Tolman High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, graduating in the class of 1957. He then went on to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies at Brown University, graduating in 1961. Moreover, he trained as a pilot, with the Air Force in Columbus, Ohio, and then as a navigator in Waco, Texas. He became a transport navigator for the military Airlift Transport Squadron. He often used to carry cargo and troops to Vietnam.

Brutal Realities Of Life:

Though as it is often said, the hardest reality of life is to lose. In the realm of human experience, few things are as devastating as loss. Similarly, the hardest and the most difficult part of his service were to bore witness to the unimaginable loss of his service friends in tragic and unfortunate circumstances. The weight of these experiences would forever be etched in his memory.

One memory that haunts Chorney to this day is the thought of his friends being shot down and being labeled as “MIA’S” or missing in action, while he flew air evacuations. The sheer brutality and senselessness of war unfolded before his eyes as he witnessed the devastating aftermath of those fatal encounters. Another memory he shared was of the stark contrast between the vibrant and courageous individuals he transported to Vietnam, full of life and hope, and the solemn return flight where their bodies would be accompanied by the mournful presence of body bags and coffins, or even as multiple amputees. All these sights were a haunting testament for him to the fragility of life and the indiscriminate nature of war.

Amidst these harrowing recollections, another distressing memory rises to the surface — the passengers he transported from Cam Rahn Bay with head injuries. As the aircraft climbed to altitude, some of these brave souls succumbed to their wounds, their bodies betraying them in the most tragic of ways. He recalls the sight of them slumping in their wheelchairs, an eerie resemblance to the peacefulness of slumber, though the reality was far from peaceful. Their final moments were fraught with pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, as they grappled with the immense burdens placed upon them.

The Aftereffects Of War – PTSD:

The toll of war extends beyond physical injuries. The psychological scars inflicted on these brave soldiers were unimaginable. The weight of their experiences, and the trauma they endured, often led them to a place of unimaginable darkness. Some were so overwhelmed by their pain, both physical and mental, that they contemplated taking their own lives as a means to escape the unrelenting agony. It was a heartbreaking decision borne out of a desperate desire to spare their loved ones and those back home from witnessing their torment. The mere thought of their loved ones experiencing the anguish of seeing them in such a state became an unbearable burden, amplifying their own suffering.

After completing his active duty, Chorney moved with his young family to Rhode Island. There he taught 9th-grade math at Woonsocket Junior High School from 1967 to 1976. Furthermore, he joined the reserves and flew with them in the summers and on school vacations. Since he had already flown 6,000 hours, he became a flight examiner in the reserves. The war never left him though. “It took me years to find out that I felt guilty for bringing troops over in one piece and back in body bags. My teaching of young guys who were entering the service only exacerbated the guilt.” He says while talking about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


Harold Franklin Chorney’s journey has been painful and troubled, though his narration does help us understand the brutal after effects of war and the effect of it on the troops that is often overlooked by the ordinary audience who enjoy the luxury of safety only because of these troops sacrificing their lives and entailing all these brutalities of being on the frontlines The brutalities of war also serve as a poignant reminder of the profound sacrifices made by those who serve. Each loss represents a life extinguished too soon, dreams left unfulfilled, and futures forever altered. It is through sharing these painful memories that we come to understand the tremendous toll of war on the human spirit.


Harold F. Chorney (Class of 1961) oral history and papers relating to the Vietnam War (riamco.org)

Hal Chorney


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