Mel Shinholster honors veterans as BSSFI president
By Phoebe Donald Robinson / Community Columnist
Mel Shinholster was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, serving in-country from 1968-1969. The Army aviator flew the UH-I Huey with the 23rd Infantry Division, Americal Division, in almost any kind of mission you can imagine: from medical to rescue, supply, reconnaissance, troop insertion and extraction. The most solemn missions he flew were retrieving soldiers and Marines who had died in combat, fulfilling the vow to never leave a man behind. It was a duty he took very seriously, for he was the first step to return these valiant heroes to their final resting places.
At the end of his tour in Vietnam, he had flown a total of 987 combat hours earning him the Air Medal with clusters and Army Commendation Medal for sustained flights in hostile territory. He returned to Georgia where he was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield as an Army Instructor Pilot, training South Vietnamese Air Force Officers in Advanced Flight Training in the UH-1 helicopter. He received an honorable discharge in December 1970 with an accumulated flight time of 1610 hours.
After the military, Shinholster worked for 35 years as a project manager and product developer with Bell South until his retirement in 2002.
Shinholster is a member of the Support Committee Alabama National Cemetery, Veterans Foreign Wars, American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, Combat Helicopter Pilots Association and Board Member of the Planning Committee for National Veterans Day. He is president of the Blue Star Salute Foundation, Inc. where he spends his time honoring, celebrating and thanking our veterans and their families throughout the State of Alabama for their service and sacrifices.
In 2013, Shinholster was awarded Alabama Veteran of the Year from the Military Officers Association of America. He was awarded the first Distinguished Citizen Medal in Alabama by the Daughters of the American Revolution in March 2014 and was awarded the Col. Leo Thorsness Veterans Award for his service to veterans in November 2014.
“I served with honor and was honored to have served,” said Shinholster. “Thank you to all who served and are serving.”