From war hero to the Idaho Legislature

Rep. Bill Goesling’s professional background didn’t come in the business world, the legal system the agriculture fields or even the halls of public schools.

To be clear, the Moscow Republican brings plenty of education experience to his assignment on the House Education Committee. Goesling is a veteran of the Moscow school board and the Idaho State Charter Commission and, most recently, the State Board of Education.

But many don’t know that Goesling is a war hero, who served his country from the cockpit of a photo reconnaissance aircraft, high above North Vietnam.

Goesling earned the rank of Commander during his 24-year career in the Navy. He served as a production test pilot and a flight instructor.

Rep. Bill Goesling, at left. All historical photos are courtesy of Bill Goesling.

During the Vietnam War, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded to honor “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”

“It’s for heroic action, I guess they call it,” Goesling said.

Goesling was in North Vietnam and his mission that day involved taking pre-strike photos of targets for possible future bombing attacks as well as post-strike photos of the current attack to determine the strike’s effectiveness.

The mission became complicated when Goesling’s aircraft was separated from his fighter escort.

“When you got separated from a wingman, the rules said get the hell out, no matter what,” Goesling said.

But Goesling knew that getting out would require another air wing attack the next day, with a possibility of the loss of lives.

So, he stuck around to complete the mission — sans wingman, rules be damned.

“My decision was continue and get the required photo confirmation that the target had been destroyed so the air wing would not have to go back,” Goesling said.

The Distinguished Flying Cross places Goesling in the company of an elite group of aviation heroes from several branches of the armed services, among them Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, and aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright and Amelia Earhart, President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Goesling flew over 6,500 flight hours in 17 different aircraft models during his career. All without a single accident, he points out with pride. During Vietnam, he flew a North American RA-5C Vigilante.

That was a special aircraft, for personal reasons.

“It took me to places and it got me back in one piece,” Goesling said.

Later, as a production test pilot on both A-7 and F-15 aircraft, he was responsible for ensuring the aircraft met contract specifications. Goesling’s job, basically, was to push a plane to its limit to ensure taxpayers got every nickel’s worth out of them.

“Whatever that airplane was supposed to do, we made sure it did it,” Goesling said.

Goesling knows what it’s like to break the sound barrier strapped inside a $30 million fighter aircraft.

Goesling retired from the Navy in 1989 and moved to Moscow to teach in the ROTC program.

After retiring, he earned a PhD in education from the University of Idaho in 1993.

Rep. Bill Goesling, during the 2019 Legislative session

Even though proximity to politics frustrated Goesling throughout his adult life, he ran for the Legislature because there were areas of education he felt the Legislature wasn’t providing enough guidance on.

The teacher pipeline is one such area.

“Because of my education background, I’m going to ask questions that others don’t ask,” Goesling said.

Today, Goesling continues to be guided by the values he learned from his family and the Navy.

“The values I hold even today are service to country and service to fellow man,” Goesling said.


Clark Corbin

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