Ladd is Wilton’s Memorial Day speaker

Memorial Day hits home for retired Marine Lt. Colonel Chris Ladd, who spent his 24-year career as an attack helicopter pilot.

“I counted, on one Memorial Day, over 40 pilots and aircrew that I knew personally, that had been killed, mostly in peacetime,” Ladd said.

“They had died either in aircraft mishaps or a couple in combat operations. The amazing thing was that most of them were killed in aviation accidents and training mishaps,” he said.

That’s something Ladd hopes to convey when he delivers the keynote speech for this year’s Memorial Day address in Wilton.

“A point that I’ll be making in my speech is that people are out there doing dangerous stuff all the time,” Ladd said. “Although when we’re in active combat there seems to be a lot more people that are aware of it, it’s happening all the time.”

Ladd joined the Marines in May 1976 through the Marines Platoon Leader Class while enrolled as a student at The State University of New York College at Cortland.

“The economy wasn’t great, and I was looking to ensure my future. It just seemed to be the thing to do at the time,” Ladd said.

His first two forward deployments were in the Mediterranean.

“The second time I went, the Iran hostage crisis was happening. Because of world conditions, we went straight through the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and spent the time in the Indian Ocean, up towards the Middle East,” Ladd said.

Ladd’s next forward deployment was in Okinawa because of the United States’ interest in supporting South Korea from Japan.

“The interesting thing about Okinawa was, we frequently went to training exercises in Korea, which was an interesting and fun place to go. It was a different culture with different scenery; we were learning to work with South Korean forces, the United States Army and the U.S. Air Force,” Ladd said.

Ladd was forward deployed in the Persian Gulf during Operation Earnest Will in 1988, protecting Kuwaiti-owned tankers from Iranian attacks.

“That was serious,” Ladd said. “We flew the whole time fully armed, meaning missiles, rockets, guns, all the time, because we were actively ready to respond to threats to the tankers.”

“However,” Ladd continued,” we learned that a heavily guarded tanker isn’t going to get attacked, so the mission was successful, because the mission was to prevent those attacks; however, it was not through combat, it was through an armed presence.”

Following his forward deployment in the Persian Gulf region, Ladd went to Iwakuni, Japan, for two years, where he was homebased, supporting a jet airfield.

Pressed for his proudest moment, Ladd said it was when he received The Air Medal for distinguished flying in a dangerous situation during a high-altitude rescue mission while stationed at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, Calif.

“A jet had crashed and the two pilots had ejected,” Ladd said. “They were both on the side of a mountain. One guy was injured and one guy wasn’t, and the thing that made it dangerous was we had just barely enough power to pull off the rescue.”

To compound that, “the helicopter we were flying was not very good at high altitude, and this was above the level where it performs well, so it was just a little hairy,” he added.

There was no room for mistakes; however, Ladd, with surgical precision, was able to get in and out successfully with with the two stranded pilots.

“It’s the only time I ever thought, ‘this is what we get flight pay for’” Ladd joked.

Ladd retired from the Marine Corps in 2000 for medical reasons, but he was ready to move on, he said. He’s living his civilian life now as a mortgage broker at Atlantic Residential Mortgage in Westport and has lived in Weston for 13 years. Ladd lived in Wilton for two years following his military career, and became a member of American Legion Post 86 three years ago.

“It’s Memorial Day; it’s time to remember those who have been killed in the service, so in my speech, I am going to highlight three people that I knew and share their stories,” Ladd said.

“When Memorial Day comes around, I think of these people that were killed, that I knew well, and I’m going to spend some time introducing them to everybody else,” he said.