Their Stories Told


Major Donald L. Heiliger

There has been much said and written about Colonel Don Heiliger. Here is just a sampling of them:

Wisconsin Army National Guard 1955-1958
U.S. Air Force 1958-1985
Cold War 1955-1985
Vietnam War 1966-1973 (POW)

DONALD L. HEILIGER Major – United States Air Force Shot Down: May 15, 1967 Released: February 18, 1973 I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1958 with a degree in Accounting, entered the Air Force Force in September of 1958, having been an Air Force ROTC graduate. During my years in the service, I was a navigator until 1964. After teaching navigation in Texas and radar bombing in California, I went to pilot training in 1964, graduating in Class 65F at Webb AFB, Texas. Then came Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas; and Yokota AFB, Japan. I was serving a TDY tour in Southeast Asia when I was shot down on May 15, 1967. On that date, Lt. Col. Ben Pollard and I were flying a night low-level bombing run on railroad marshaling yards 30 miles northeast of Hanoi. Either small arms or light AAA set our plane afire. We ejected safely. I received minimum rib and leg injuries when my parachute was caught in a tree. We were both taken prisoner separately but met on the way to Hanoi.


Excerpts from A Facebook Tribute page about the Colonel:

“Don was a US Air Force pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam war. He was captured and imprisoned for over 6 years where he was tortured, beaten, etc.. He was at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. In the early years, he was in solitary confinement. He told me that he would each Sunday have a church service in his mind, singing hymns, preaching a sermon, praying, etc.. In later years, as the war was coming to an end, he was with other prisoners. When he was with others…he would be the “preacher” for the other prisoners and share as much as he was allowed to do.”


The point is…the Gospel of the Resurrected Lord sustained him during some very difficult times.


And…more than that….he boldly and gladly shared that faith in Jesus with others. Many years after his release, he had a Government job in Israel. Here he was very involved in starting/maintaining a Lutheran presence in the area of Tel Aviv. The last Christmas that I served as the pastor of the church, he, as was the tradition, with much difficulty, got into the altar area and read the Christmas account of the birth of Jesus during the Christmas Eve Service. I don’t think I will forget that experience. (


His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads: Captain Donald L. Heiliger distinguished himself for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 pilot over North Vietnam on 30 April 1967. On that date, Captain Heiliger conducted the first-night radar, low-level mission against one of North Vietnam’s most valuable and heavily defended railroad yards. Even under the best of conditions, this mission would have been extremely difficult and dangerous. However, Captain Heiliger flew in the dead of night and in a single unescorted aircraft. With complete disregard for his own safety, he continued his attack in spite of the threat of numerous missiles and intense hostile antiaircraft fire. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Captain Heiliger has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force. (


Colonel Donald L. Heiliger (USAF ret.), age 79, of McFarland, passed away surrounded by his family on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at Wm. S. Middleton Veterans Hospital. Don was born in Madison on Jan. 16, 1937, the son of the late James and Marjorie (Anderson) Heiliger. He was baptized and confirmed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. He graduated from Madison East High School in 1954 and UW-Madison in 1958 majoring in accounting and receiving an Air Force ROTC commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, later earning a master’s degree in Latin American studies from George Washington University. Don was a navigator and fighter pilot, flying the F-105 Thunderchief. In 1967, while piloting his 44th combat mission in the Vietnam War, he was shot down and spent five years and nine months as a Prisoner-of-War. As a prisoner at the “Hanoi Hilton”, Don is fondly remembered by his fellow POWs for his love of music. After his return to freedom in 1973, Don married church organist and teacher Cheryl Kay Edwards on Dec. 22nd. Don accepted diplomatic assignments as U.S. Air Force Attaché to Uruguay, Chile and Israel, also serving as chief of the International Affairs Division in the Pentagon. Don and family moved back to Wisconsin in 1987 after retirement. With a passion for public service, he was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors for 12 years and as Clerk of the Township of Dunkirk. He was appointed to the State Board of Veterans Affairs and Madison Area Technical College Board of Trustees. Faith was very important to him and in recent years, Don enjoyed serving on the Evangelical Lutheran Synod Board of Trustees and the Christian Service Board. Don was a member of Stoughton Rotary, American Legion Post No. 59, and VFW Post No. 328. (


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