NEW CUMBERLAND, W.Va. - Retired Brig. Gen. John "Doc" Bahnsen has earned his share of military honors over the course of his 30-year career in the Army, but being invited to the Gathering of Eagles Week may top them all.
"It's a great honor," Bahnsen said. "I'm just tickled to death to be nominated for it."
Bahnsen and his wife, Peggy (Miller) Bahnsen, of New Cumberland, are spending the week at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., to participate in the annual Gathering of Eagles event there.
Invitees are military aviation pioneers who meet with new graduates of the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), an intermediate military school of the U.S. Air Force that trains field-grade officers for all service branches.
"The main purpose (of the Gathering of Eagles program) is to take old fuddy-duddies like me and bleed our brains for what we learned from our experiences," Bahnsen said.
Bahnsen, 79, joins the likes of Neil Armstrong, Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle and Curtis LeMay-all part of the first Gathering of Eagles in 1982-as he and 12 other aviators hold question-and-answer sessions this week with the class of 2014.
"This is the culmination of their entire school year. This is the final part of the program-to talk to these old guys," he said. "I'm actually one of the younger ones."
Bahnsen is a Vietnam veteran who did two tours of duty in Vietnam-the first in 1964, when he commanded the "Bandits" gunship platoon at Bien Hoa Air Base, and the second in 1968, when he commanded a troop of UH-1 and OH-6 helicopters and AH-1 gunships.
During his second tour, he commanded an infantry aero rifle platoon that saw more than 300 enemy contacts in 13 months.
"He frequently fought from the air in his UH-1 command-and-control helicopter, but also led operations on the ground," according to his Gathering of Eagles biography. "Remarkably, he was the only major to command a squadron in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Vietnam War."
Bahnsen wrote about his Vietnam experiences in the 2007 book "American Warrior: A Combat Memoir of Vietnam" (Citadel Press).
He is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, and 51 Air Medals, among other honors.
Retiring from active service in 1986, Bahnsen returned to his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and worked at BDM Corp. prior to forming his own consulting firm, Bahnsen Inc.
After his wife's retirement from active service as an Army lieutenant colonel, Bahnsen settled in her hometown of New Cumberland, where they operate the Miller Family Farm.
Bahnsen and the 12 other 2014 Gathering of Eagles invitees will be featured on a lithograph that will be sold as a fundraiser for the Gathering of Eagles program.