Captain Richard H. Langenfeld was always just “Rolo.” He was one of the old salts when HMM-265 left New River for Vietnam on USS Boxer in April, 1966, since he, along with Bob Mills and a few others, already had had a tour there in H-34s. I was a lieutenant just a year out of flight school.
The squadron had an operating policy of pairing a HAC and a copilot as a “crew” and scheduling them together whenever possible. There was a great deal of variability in the degree to which each HAC tried give his copilot a chance to handle some tough situations before his own HAC check. A few only allowed the copilot to touch the controls in straight and level flight at a safe altitude or when landing on a runway or large, secure LZ. Rolo was at the opposite extreme. Most fell somewhere in between.
I only got to fly with Rolo a few times because he was not my regular HAC. I found right away that Rolo always made the first takeoff and landing, you made the second takeoff and landing, and then it was Rolo’s turn again. And so it went, all day, turn and turn about. Sometimes your turn happened to be a confined zone under enemy fire, or a max-gross takeoff over a power line, or perhaps a heavy landing on a mountain-top zone in a tricky wind. If you started to screw it up Rolo would just sit there and watch until you just knew that something bad was about to happen. Then he would say calmly, “I’ve got it,” and salvage the situation. Afterwards he always would carefully explain what you did wrong; those were real teaching moments. I learned a lot flying with Rolo, especially when I screwed something up. I have always thought that the HACs who never let a copilot try anything hard were those most doubtful of their own abilities. Rolo had no such doubts, and rightfully so; he was one of the very few “natural” pilots I have ever known.
Rolo never lost his sense of humor, even in extremis. One day I was someone else’s copilot in a flight of four headed into a s*** sandwich when I heard him come up on the air with, “Let’s do a three-sixty and get the f*** our of here.”
Several of us, including Rolo, were sent to Pensacola as flight instructors after our Vietnam tour. One weekend he and I took a T-28 on a cross-country instrument training flight from Whiting Field to Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, SD, to do some pheasant hunting around Castlewood, Rolo’s home town. (Rolo was a hunter and fisherman, “the last of the Mohicans and the first of the long rifles.”) He made the landing from the back seat in a crosswind, touched down in a skid, and blew a tire, so we had to stay and hunt an extra day while someone flew a tire up from Whiting. The guys at Whiting swore that Rolo did it on purpose because they knew him to be a superb pilot. I could not swear that they were wrong.
I have a movie in my mind of Rolo dancing with reckless abandon at Sir Richard’s to “Joy to the World,” by Three Dog Night. They captured him perfectly with, “I’m a high night flyer and a rainbow rider, a straight shootin’ son of a gun.” I have another mental movie of the bouncer at Sir Richard’s hustling Rolo toward the door, holding the back of Rolo’s shirt collar and belt, with Rolo up on his tiptoes looking back and screaming at him, “You sonofabitch, I’ve been thrown into better places than this!”
Rolo transitioned to jets after Pensacola. He was the only helicopter pilot in his A-4 NAMO class; the others were all coming from some other type of fighter or attack aircraft. However, Rolo was the only one who went directly to a squadron with nothing but single-seat A-4s (the others went somewhere with at least a few dual-seat TA-4s), so his first flight in an A-4 was a solo. “On my first takeoff,” he said, “I was passing through 5,000 feet before I found the gear handle.”
Rolo passed away in his ice fishing hut in 2005 a few days before his sixty-seventh birthday. I’m sure that he would have thought it a good way to go.