Decorated Aviator Recounts Three Decades of Service and Golden Eagles Reunion
Colonel Dave (Frosty) Seder was a senior in college contemplating a marketing career before he met a charismatic Marine recruiter in full dress blues with a photo of a Phantom F-4 fighter bomber. After a courtesy flight, Seder was hooked. Following graduation, he joined the Marines and excelled in Officer Candidate School and flight training. Arriving in Da Nang, South Vietnam as a 1st Lieutenant in early 1969, Seder piloted 500 bombing and reconnaissance missions, primarily in the Phantom F-4, and also the TA-4F Skyhawk and O-1 Bird Dog. He spent nearly 900 hours in combat, mostly over South Vietnam and Laos, including the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.
“We hit a lot of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese bunker complexes, often from about 500 feet off the ground and sometimes less,” Seder said. The “Ho Chi Minh Trail was a heavily defended major supply line and our planes took some anti-aircraft hits, (one that pierced the windscreen inches from his head). We had some scares, saved some lives and killed a lot of bad guys. The Marines and soldiers on the ground and helicopter crews were really in harm’s way, and had it much harder than we did.”
Seder recently got to see many of his brethren aviators at The Early & Pioneer Naval Aviators Association Reunion April 7th to 10th at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va. An elite organization, also known as The Golden Eagles, the 200-member group was established in 1956. Navy, Marine and Coast Guard aviators, Medal of Honor recipients, astronauts, aces and others who have contributed significantly to U.S. Naval Aviation, fill its ranks. The reunion was managed by Norfolk, Virginia-based Armed Forces Reunions, Inc., the nation’s leading military event planner since 1988.
“Our gathering was a tour de force, especially because of COVID preventing us from meeting the last two years,” said Seder who was inducted in 2012. “There was plenty of pageantry, but it’s always the people, sharing stories and catching up, all centering on camaraderie and respect.”
After leaving Vietnam as a captain in late 1970, Seder began a series of billets serving in numerous Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons (VMFAs), including on the USS America in 1971 for the first Marine deployment of Phantoms from an aircraft carrier. He went on to become a flight instructor and was promoted to Major in 1977, followed by several assignments as Flight and Training Operations Officer stateside and abroad. In 1978 as Operations Officer of VMFA-115 he developed the “Block Training Program,” which significantly improved the efficiency and proficiency for training Marine pilots. The program was adopted throughout Marine aviation and Seder was selected as the Marine Aviator of the Year for 1980.
“I’m very proud of that award, but it was really about the quick learning and performance of our guys in VMFA-115. It really worked out, and several of us were made strike leaders for our 1981 cruise on the USS Forrestal,” Seder said.
Promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1982, he became the Anti-Air Warfare Requirements Officer for the Marine Corps. Seder went on to contribute to the development and introduction of the F/A-18 Hornet and became commanding officer of VMFA–451, which flew the new plane. “I loved the Phantom and flew almost 4,000 hours in that plane, but the Hornet was a better fighter and bomber, the next generation, with extraordinary accuracy and a great weapon suite,” Seder said.
Promoted to full Colonel in 1988, he became the primary staff officer for logistics at the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing in New Orleans, LA. “I learned so much at the 4th wing, which played a major role in Operation Desert Storm,” he said. Seder had several more command posts until his final tour as Chief of Staff at the Third Marine Aircraft Wing in El Toro, CA. He retired in 1997, but not before two flights on the Hornet and nearly 7,000 flight hours during his career. “The wonderful thing about all my billets is I was always able to fly,” said Seder, 78. “Anyone who knows ‘Frosty’ will tell you I love to fly.”
So how did Seder get the nickname Frosty? “It was in 1970 in a Phantom and the air conditioning got stuck at 65 degrees below zero centigrade for nine minutes. My feet were frozen, got a dose of frostbite and was in a wheelchair for three days. I recovered, and the call-sign stuck,” said Seder, who lives with wife Marion “Donna” Seder in Fairfax, Va.
In a career spanning 31 years, Seder earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, 43 Strike Flight Awards, two Legion of Merit Medals and scores of other decorations and accolades, but said the medals don’t quite resonate as much as accomplishing the missions. “Medals were more important when I was young. The three primary things I’m proud of today are first being a Marine; the squadron and group I was honored to lead and what those Marines and sailors accomplished; and my tours as Chief of Staff and Assistant Wing Commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Throughout my career I viewed an important part of my job as a leader and commander was to be there for the Marines and sailors to filter out the pressure and magnify the praise.”
After retirement from the Corps, Seder worked in the private sector and spent 20 years at Boeing as Director of Marine Corps Systems, essentially an interface between Boeing and the Marines on multiple levels. He fully retired two years ago – but once a Marine, always a Marine – he now serves on the board of the Marine Corps Aviation Association, on the Scarlet and gold Committee for the Marine Corps Scholarship foundation and as North East Flight Leader for the Golden Eagles. When asked if he still flies, Seder said: “Manned aviation flight has been around for about 120 years. I flew through about a quarter of that ‘sweet spot’ and feel pretty good about it. The skies are now best left to the young jockeys.”
By Scott B. McCaskey, Creative Writer for Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. and AFR Tours.