On May 24, 1944, Second Lieutenant Carter Harman was serving as a flying instructor at Perrin Air Base in Texas while waiting to be shipped overseas for service during World War II. An officer approached him and a few other young pilots, asking for volunteers to fly helicopters, a new and untested aircraft at the time. Harman, against his better judgment, decided to volunteer, recognizing the importance of gaining experience with any aircraft he could.
Harman's decision to volunteer would ultimately lead to his involvement in the first military helicopter rescue mission. Just six months after his decision to fly helicopters, Harman was flying a Sikorsky YR-4B over the jungles of Burma (now Myanmar). Harman and his helicopter were tasked with rescuing an American pilot, Ed "Murphy" Hladovcak, who had been shot down while ferrying three wounded and sick British soldiers in a Stinson L-1 Vigilant light aircraft. Hladovcak was hiding from the Japanese with the British soldiers in the thick jungle canopy, with enemy patrols passing so close to them that they could have reached out and touched them.
The Sikorsky YR-4B was underpowered and prone to stalling in the hot and humid climate of Burma. Despite this, Harman managed to navigate the helicopter through the jungle and locate Hladovcak and the British soldiers. Harman landed the helicopter and sprang into action, pulling the wounded soldiers and Murphy aboard. But the Japanese were almost upon them. Bullets ricocheted off the helicopter's metal skin as Harman took off. The terrain was unforgiving, and the enemy relentless. He lifted them out of the jungle and flew them to safety. Harman's successful rescue mission proved the value of helicopters in military operations and paved the way for their use in combat search and rescue missions. For his actions, Lt. Harman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Harman's bravery and willingness to take risks to gain experience with new aircraft ultimately led to the success of the first military helicopter rescue mission. He would go on to serve in the Air Force for several years and later in the Air National Guard. Harman's story serves as an inspiration for the importance of taking calculated risks and the value of perseverance in the face of new challenges.