Howie Rutledge was born on November 13, 1928, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on July 11, 1946, and after attending the University of Tulsa, he entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy in March 1948. Rutledge was designated a Naval Aviator on September 30, 1949, and then attended jet transition training from October to November 1949, later receiving his commission as an Ensign on April 6, 1950. His first assignment was as an F9F-2 Panther pilot with VF-52 from December 1949 to August 1952, during which time he flew 200 combat missions during the Korean War from the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45) from 1950 to 1952. He then served as a project officer with the Naval Air Development Unit at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts, from September 1952 to September 1954, followed by service as an exchange officer with the U.S. Air Force, where he flew F-86 Sabre fighters with the 34th Fighter-Day Squadron at George AFB, California, from October 1954 to August 1956. Lt Rutledge next served as an F8U-1 Crusader pilot with VF-32 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, from September 1956 to December 1958, deploying aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60) in support of Operation Blue Bat during the Lebanon Crisis from July to October 1958. His next assignment was as an F8U-1 instructor pilot with VF-174, the F8U Replacement Air Group, at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, from January 1959 to July 1960. LCDR Rutledge then attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, to complete his bachelor's degree from August 1960 to August 1962, followed by service as an operations analyst with the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California, from September 1962 to February 1965. After completing F-8 Crusader Replacement Pilot Training with VF-124 at NAS Moffet Field, California, CDR Rutledge served as Executive Officer of VF-191 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) deployed to Southeast Asia from June 1965 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on November 28, 1965. After spending 2,634 days in captivity, Capt Rutledge was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, and then attended the U.S. International University in San Diego, from September 1973 to June 1974. Capt Rutledge next served as Commanding Officer of NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines from July 1974 to August 1976, followed by service as Deputy Director for Aviation Plans and Requirements in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon from September 1976 to April 1978. His final assignment was as Commanding Officer of the Navy ROTC detachment at the University of Oklahoma from May 1978 until his retirement from the Navy on July 1, 1980. Howie Rutledge died on June 11, 1984.
His Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
For heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight on 28 November 1965, as a pilot of jet aircraft, serving with Fighter Squadron ONE HUNDRED NINETY-ONE (VF-191), embarked in U.S.S. BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31), during aerial combat operations. Captain Rutledge led a flight of three aircraft which were participating in a two-carrier strike against the Ha Chanh Bridge in North Vietnam. Prior to reaching the target, his flight was diverted to the alternate target, a railroad and highway bridge near Thanh Hoa. Overcast conditions in the area forced Captain Rutledge to descend into an area of heavy ground fire before commencing his attack. Without regard for his personal safety, he led his group in a dive bombing attack in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, delivering his bombs squarely on the assigned target and inflicting severe damage. Captain Rutledge's courageous performance was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.