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David Henry Pickett was born in Springfield, VT, to Edward and Grace Pickett. He was a twin, the fourth child of eight, and the first of three sons. He became an "Army brat" at two months when his father was called to Active Duty for the Korean War.
Throughout his fathers 33-year career, Dave was exposed to the Army in Germany, Ft. Devens, Ft. Benning, Ft. Leavenworth, Ft. Meade, and the Panama Canal Zone. He graduated from Leavenworth High School in 1968 and, after one year at Saint Dominic’s Seminary in Atchison, KS, entered West Point.
Dave’s classmates remember him as the "Pick," a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy; the "Big Gun." He put down a lot of unclaimed Tony’s pizzas right around "Taps" to keep that big-oak-tree body of his going. He had an incredible energy level and was always smiling with a great attitude, no matter how tough the training, how hot the day, or how many pushups he had to do. His sense of humor pulled many of us through some tough times.
Dave’s life as a cadet revolved pretty much around sport parachuting. You can’t really picture Dave without seeing him packing a parachute while talking to you. On the parachuting team all four years, he was the president Firstie year. His strength was accuracy in a sport whose objective is landing as close to a target as possible. Dave would be under canopy, as calm as he could be, guiding the chute as if he were sliding down an invisible wire, then bang—smack on target! Dave’s life was like that. He got better when the competition got hotter. Everyone else would get nervous, but Dave would come through. He was unnaturally dependable. Dave was at his best when setting the example. As a team leader, Dave backed his team when several were caught disobeying the coach’s rules. The coach wanted to kick them off the team, but Dave stood tall and said, "They’re my responsibility. If they go, I go." His teammates grew up a little bit that night, stayed on the team, and learned what it meant to be a leader.
Upon graduation, Dave went Infantry and had assignments as Infantry platoon leader in 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2d Infantry Div., Korea; Aviation Section and platoon leader, 118th Aviation Company, Schofield Barracks, HI; and S-2, Assistant S-3, S-3,14th Aviation Battalion, Ft. Sill, OK. While assigned to the 101st Airborne Div. (Air Assault), he held positions as S-3, 4th Aviation Battalion; commander ofTask Force Southern Eagle II in Honduras; Assistant Div. Aviation Officer; and commander, 4th Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, Honduras. In his functional area—Research and Development—Dave performed duties as an Aeronautical Engineer for three years at the U.S. Army Safety Center, Ft. Rucker, AL.
Dave’s awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Service Medal, and Overseas Service Ribbon. His badges include Senior Aviator Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachute Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Expert Infantry Badge.
In 1976 in Hawaii, Dave met an Army nurse named Rosemary Griggs, and it was love at first sight. They married in 1977 and had two sons and a daughter—Jonathan, Ryan, and Shannon. Throughout the challenges of a dual military career couple, Dave was a dedicated and compassionate husband and father, supporting his wife’s military career and raising three children.
Dave clearly demonstrated his leadership in the aftermath of the tragic 1985 Pershing missile explosion in Europe. The president of the U.S. investigation board hand selected him to be his engineer assistant, and for 200-plus days Dave was truly working at levels far above that normally expected of a junior major.
The investigation was accomplished with humility, humanity, and humor that helped to maintain morale at a high level under the most severe and adverse conditions. Dave could get action at any level and cooperation from everyone.
He would keep them informed and talking and resolve friction with humor. Such was his uncanny ability to play the "peacemaker role." Those skills and talents led to Dave’s early promotion to lieutenant colonel and exceptionally early selection to battalion command.
Dave’s combat experience came during operation "Just Cause." His battalion was forming in Panama to go to Honduras when the operation began. Without hesitation, Dave went to his sister battalion commander and volunteered his services. He flew seven combat air-assault missions into hot landing zones while accumulating 21 hours of combat time. On 20 Dec 1989, he conducted two successive lifts into a large concentration of enemy fire and was awarded the Air Medal. Due to the circumstances surrounding his battalion’s activation, Dave coined its official motto, "Born Under Fire."
Dave commanded the 4-228th Aviation Battalion at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. He was the senior Army aviation and safety officer for Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and Nicaragua. His attention to detail, high standards, and personal example insured that many extremely sensitive and highly visible international missions were performed flawlessly. He was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal for the significant role he and his battalion played during "Operation Amigo," where over 3,000 Contra "Freedom Fighters" were repatriated from Honduras to Nicaragua.
On 2 Jan 1991, Dave’s life was cut short by guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El Salvador. While returning from the delivery of a repaired helicopter, Dave’s helicopter was shot down. The aircraft pilot was mortally wounded and Dave took the controls and made an amazing landing, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. While the guerillas held them at gunpoint, Dave continued his long established pattern of looking out for the welfare of his men by demanding help for the mortally wounded pilot and his crew chief. The guerillas ignored Dave’s pleas, first executing the crew chief, then Dave.
Of Dave, President Bush wrote, "LTC David H. Pickett, USA, served his country with honor, dignity, and courage, earning the enduring gratitude of all Americans." The 4th Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment renamed its compound Camp Pickett in honor of its first commander, and the El Salvadoran Air Force named one of their OA-37 tactical fighters "LTC Pickett" in honor of Dave.
Dave, you lived, served, and died for West Point. You exemplified "Duty, Honor, Country," and we will miss you. Now may it be said, "Well done. Be thou at peace."