Mark Alexander / March 15, 2023

Profiles of Valor: Brian Shul

“Please God, I can’t do this anymore. Let’s end it.”

There are a couple of signed military aviation books on my study shelf that I treasure above others. One of those would be Sled Driver by Brian Shul (unfortunately now out of print). That book and hundreds of other historic texts not only provide valuable research resources but great inspiration on what it really means “to support and defendAmerican Liberty.

Some may recognize Shul’s name because of a viral post, “LA Speed Check,” a short story about punking a Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot one day when Brian and his back-seat RSO Walter Watson, were flying “Aspen 20,” a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, at 2,000 knots over California. Every military and civilian pilot can appreciate that story.

But what few know is what Major Brian Shul (USAF, Ret.) endured before qualifying to fly the fastest reconnaissance jet in history. He almost burned to death after his AT-28 Trojan crashed in 1973, 40 miles south of Udorn, Thailand, near Nam Phong airfield. It was his 211th mission, this one providing close air support for the CIA’s Air America operations. He expected to die that day, recalling: “[I was] completely blind, as my helmet visor had melted. I did everything by feel.” In fact his his Nomex flight suit was melted to his body. Fortunately, Air Force Special Operations Command Pararescue teams located him, and he was air-evacuated to Okinawa.

Shul says today: “Don’t confuse me with anyone famous, important, or heroic. What I am is the luckiest man you’ll ever see.”

After surviving for two months in Okinawa – two months more than anyone but Brian thought he would survive, he was transferred to the Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he underwent 15 major operations over the next year. At one point enduring agonizing and constant pain, he recalls wanting to give up: “I quit, and I wanted to die. Please God, I can’t do this anymore. Let’s end it.”

But then, he says: “My turning point was a simple thing. I could hear [children on a playground] laughing, and I thought about how I used to be one of those kids. And at that moment, I heard Judy Garland come on the radio.” It was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Praying his way through recovery and fighting to get back on his feet again, he was told he would never fly — but he would have none of that. Two days after his release, despite burn scars over most of his body, by the grace of God Shul passed a flight physical and, amazingly, was selected to be part of the first operational A-10 squadron, later becoming an A-10 instructor pilot.

Shooting high, Shul put in to become an SR-71 pilot, which required an astronaut-level physical just to qualify. He made it.

Speaking in third person about a mission he flew out of Okinawa, where he had been hospitalized a decade earlier, he says: “Remember that one day, an SR-71 took to the runway at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. That long, black nose swung out, waiting for its exact take off time. And the jet’s pilot that day could look out a little side window on a 15-degree heading for 2.1 miles. He could see the roof of the hospital he laid in a lifetime ago. And legend has it that during take off that day, the SR-71 did not climb out over the South China Sea to tanker. Instead, it made a hard left turn at the end of the runway, full burner, 300 feet (some say much lower) to buzz over a certain soccer field… Rattling every window in a certain hospital without breaking one, that jet turned back to the course, now that the entire base was alerted. And at that moment, the pilot knew what Einstein meant when he said, ‘Imagination is far more important than knowledge.’”

After 20 years and 5,000 hours in Air Force jets, Brian retired in 1990. I invite you to link here and listen to his personal account about his amazing journey.

(Please consider a designated gift to support the National Medal of Honor Sustaining Fund through Patriot Foundation Trust, or make a check payable to Liberty Fund (noting MoH Sustaining Fund on the memo line), and mail it to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407.)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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