2010-03-03 / News

Bud Seaman: Modest hero laid to rest

He flew missions in Korean War as student pilot
By Tim Juhl

Motorists on M-46 were treated to an unusual sight around noon Feb. 23. If they were driving past Hacker Funeral Parlors, they were startled by the blast of three volleys of rifle fire from a line of M1-wielding veterans standing in front of the building.

If this wasn’t enough, a small airplane making a low pass across the highway and over the assembled mourners accompanied their rifle salute. All this was part of a final tribute to Alfred “Bud” Seaman, 79, who passed away unexpectedly Feb. 19.

Bud lived most of his life in Sandusky, and was known as a man who could fix almost anything mechanical, and for his long-standing love affair with airplanes and flying. Over the last sixty years he had rebuilt and flown a large number of classic aircraft, and at the time of his passing had just completed building an 80% replica of a DeHavallind Tiger Moth biplane. If death had not intervened, there is no doubt that he would soon be moving on to his next airplane project and flying adventure.

Alfred “Bud” Seaman Alfred “Bud” Seaman While many in Sanilac County were aware of his passion for flying, few were aware of how he got his start. His story is the stuff of Hollywood movies, although with typical modesty, Bud would tell you that he “was only doing his job”.

When Bud was a senior in high school, he and his brother Floyd bought an old jalopy. They both joined the Army Reserve, thinking it would be an easy way to earn a little extra gas money. This worked very well for both of them until the Korean War began in June of 1950. As luck would have it, their unit was one of the first called up. Since Bud and his brother hadn’t been through basic training yet, they were sent to be trained while the rest of the outfit went off to war.

Training completed, Bud arrived in Korea just before Thanksgiving, 1950, and joined the 17th Infantry Regiment. The 17th had advanced to the banks of the Yalu River which was the northernmost point reached by US forces throughout the entire war. Many newspapers were saying that the war would soon be over but that was before the Chinese decided to intervene in the fighting. Bud hadn’t even had time to settle in before the Chinese attacked in overwhelming numbers on Nov. 25 and his regiment had to retreat or face being cut off and slaughtered. Furious fighting ensued during the withdrawal and some of the units in Bud’s division suffered up to 40% casualties.

It was obvious to everyone that the war would not be over soon and Bud and his comrades settled down to a never-ending seesaw battle of shifting front lines and horrendous fighting. During this time Bud lived in foxholes and experienced the terror of Chinese “Human Wave” attacks that resulted in tremendous casualties on both sides. It was during one of these nighttime attacks that some Chinese soldiers made it through the US lines to the rear area and attacked the tents housing the regiment’s senior officers. Throwing hand grenades into the tents, they succeeded in killing and wounding many men, including the regiment’s pilot. Receiving orders to withdraw, the surviving officers faced the dilemma of finding someone who could fly their airplane out or destroying it so it would not fall into enemy hands. In stepped Bud Seaman.

Like a scene in a Hollywood movie, Bud was in his foxhole when a sergeant came crawling down the line asking whether there was anybody who could fly a plane. Bud volunteered that he had some flying experience so off he went.

As the sun rose the following day, Bud found himself with a lieutenant looking at an Aeronca L-16, the military version of the Aeronca Champion that Bud had been taking flying lessons in just before he had been called to active duty. He only had about ten hours of flying time and had just barely soloed but there was no one else available so he agreed to give it a try.

Bud and the lieutenant climbed into the L-16, took off and flew south above a road choked with trucks full of withdrawing US troops. Bud managed to land the L-16 at a field in the rear area and apparently did okay, as he was put to work for the next six weeks flying the L-16 back and forth between the rear area and front lines.

During this time he carried dispatches, personnel and desperately needed spare parts. At the front, his “airport” was usually nothing more than an area of rough ground marked off with brightly colored cloth panels. He had to be careful of the routes he flew as the enemy often occupied the high ground and liked nothing better than the chance to shoot at a passing plane. Moving at a mere 85 mph with a fuselage covered only with cloth, the L-16 was an easy target.

When a new pilot arrived for the L-16, Bud was asked to stay on and fly a slightly larger plane, the Stinson L-5. The L-5 had been developed during WWII and was designed to carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher behind the pilot. There was some tough fighting going on at the time, and Bud was kept busy ferrying wounded men to safety. On his last flight in Korea, Bud was carrying a gravely wounded man in the back when his engine suddenly quit. He never knew whether it was from enemy fire or an inopportune mechanical failure, but there he was, going down.

The road below was choked with trucks so Bud aimed for the narrow shoulder. He managed to land the plane safely, despite the fact that his wing came within a dozen feet of the passing vehicles. Such a landing would be an incredible feat for an experienced pilot, yet Bud pulled it off. The wounded man was transferred to a truck, and the plane blown up and the wreckage left by the side of the road.

It wasn’t long after his forced landing that Bud received orders back to the States, and he was glad to go. He never received any recognition from the Army for his incredible service, nor did he expect any. Regardless, Bud may be the only student pilot to have flown in combat in the entire history of Army aviation.

This modest man returned to Michigan, got a job, married, raised a family and continued his love affair with aviation. He was a true hero in every sense of the word, and those who knew him are the better for it. He was a good man, a great pilot and a wonderful friend. He will be missed.

(Tim Juhl of Carsonville was a good friend of Bud Seaman. In the early 1980s, they restored a classic airplane that Juhl still owns and flies today)

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