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Brazil RPCV Billy Heikkinen: from Peace Corps to military career
Brazil RPCV Billy Heikkinen: from Peace Corps to military career
Heikkinen: from Peace Corps to military career
Tripoli High School graduate has served in countries all over the world
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 19th, 2003 02:10:01 PM
Following high school graduation and two years in the Peace Corps, Brantwood native William (Billy) Heikkenen, Puyallup, Wash., had a 20-year career as an U.S. Army pilot.
Brantwood native William Heikkinen, a 1963 graduate of Tripoli High School, now lives in a semi-rural area of Puyallup, Washington. It is a "busy, growing and changing" community located about 40 miles south of Seattle. In a telephone interview, he stated that he was one of the youngest people to be accepted into the Peace Corps when he joined the fledgling organization at the age of 18 almost immediately after his graduation.
He received several weeks of Peace Corps training at UW-Milwaukee which included learning to speak Portugese before he was sent to Brazil.
"We left the United States on Nov. 16, 1963, just six days before President Kennedy was assassinated, but it was some time before we learned about his death," Heikkinen said. "I did have the opportunity to meet him as well as Sargant Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps."
Assigned to a rural area about 300 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, he worked with a rural youth program similar to 4-H and assisted with community health and sanitation projects. Heikkinen also taught English and received additional training during his two-year stay in the South American country.
"Serving in the Peace Corps taught me to appreciate what we had back home," he said. "It also helped me to learn about countries other than my own. I still correspond via the Internet with some of the students and my dentist."
When he returned to Wisconsin in 1965, Heikkinen majored in international relations at UW-Milwaukee while teaching some classes for Peace Corps volunteers and working full-time as a telegrapher for the Milwaukee Railroad. Two and a half years later he was drafted and for the next thirty years served in the United States Army.
"It might seem unusual that someone who served in the Peace Corps would have a career in the military," he said. "When I was drafted, I hadn't planned to spend most of my life in the Army, but I'm not sorry it turned out that way. I have toured some 30 different countries and can speak several languages."
After completing U.S. Army basic and advanced training, Heikkinen was accepted into flight school at Fort Walters, Texas, then went to Fort Rucker, Alabama to train as a rotary wing (helicopter) pilot.
He was then sent to Vietnam in December, 1969 and, when he returned to the United States, took a test pilot training course at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Among the aircraft he piloted were the UH1 (Huey) and the UH60 (Black Hawk). He was then sent to Germany as a maintenance pilot.
"In Vietnam, I was stationed with the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, known the Blackcats, and flew the UH-I on combat assaults and ‘ash and trash' missions," he said. "While stationed at Hanau, Germany, I served with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company."
In 1974, he married the sister of an Army buddy who had died in Vietnam. The following year, Heikkinen was assigned to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He and his wife, Judy, were living there when their son Justin, was born.
He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington several years later when Mount St. Helens erupted. During the search for survivors, which involved Army, Air Force and National Guard personnel and equipment, Heikkinen flew 13 rescue missions but found no survivors.
"After being stationed for three years at Fort Lewis, we went back to Germany and one of the highlights of my career happened during that assignment with the 207th Aviation Company at Heidelberg. During the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I flew several dignitaries and was able to see President Reagan, Queen Elizabeth and other heads of state. It was an impressive experience."
His final assignment took Heikkinen back to Fort Lewis, where he flew with the Special Forces, the Green Berets Officially retired in 1988, he was called out of retirement briefly during Operation Desert Storm, but was not deployed overseas.
During his years of military service, Heikkinen had earned an associate degree in business. After his retirement, he earned a real estate license and worked as a real estate salesman for a while. He now manages a pro shop at a golf course.
"My work at the pro shop allows me to golf free of charge," he said. "I also enjoy fishing and helping raise funds for the YMCA youth programs."
His wife Judy is an executive assistant for the assistant superintendent of their local school district which includes about 20,000 students. She enjoys being involved in school activities.
"We are planning to come back to Prentice later this year for my 40-year class reunion," Heikkinen said. "We have also been thinking about moving back to the area in a few years. Wisconsin's northwoods is a great place to have a retirement home."
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.