DuBOIS — There’s a chance Steve Karschner and Ben Kreidler met in high school without even knowing it. Karschner grew up in Lewistown, Pa., and Kreidler in Huntingdon, and their high schools regularly faced off against each other in a variety of sports, including basketball, football and wrestling.
And there’s a chance they met again when they were serving in Vietnam.
Both men belonged to the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry of the 101st Airborne Division; Karschner was a scout pilot in Charlie Troop stationed in Phu Bai and Kreidler was a crew chief and gunner in Alpha stationed in Quang Tri. Both troops, Karschner said, operated out of Khe Sahn together in 1971 during Operation Lam Son 719.
But the two wouldn’t become friends for another 20 years, when they met by chance one day. Kreidler spotted a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter – what most soldiers called a “Huey” – in State College. It was much like the ones he fixed during the war and one Karschner had been flying as a private contractor.
“We were in Vietnam together and probably crossed paths there,” Karschner, who now lives in DuBois, said. “Then one day in 1990, he walked up to me in State College and told me who he was. It’s just been a friendship ever since.”
Over two decades later, Kreidler recently came to visit Karschner and see another helicopter the likes of which he used to repair. Outside of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 813, to which Karschner belongs, is a memorial to Clearfield County veterans killed in action and on top of it is a Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter.
Karschner said he did not wish to speak on the behalf of Kreidler, who could not be reached for this story, but that he knew the experience of seeing an aircraft like the one he crewed in Vietnam must have been an emotional one.
During one mission, one of Charlie Troop’s Cobras had been shot down, Karschner said. One of the men who flew a Huey to the crash site and rescued the pilots, he said, was Kreidler.
Karschner said his friend had to take his time before seeing another relic of war like the one in DuBois.
“I’m glad he did. I think it helped turn a page,” he said.