How Vietnam Veterans Are Making A New Home for Old Huey Helicopters


The UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, some of the recognizable symbols of the Vietnam Warfare, continues to stir reminiscences greater than 60 years after American troops first heard the previous workhorse’s distinctive whop, whop, whop because it approached for air assist, the insertion of reinforcements, mail supply or medical evacuation.

“It may be a love-hate relationship,” stated Huey pilot Phil Marshall, who was a 21-year-old warrant officer with the 237th Medical Detachment and continues to fly the chopper as a volunteer with a nonprofit group based to rehabilitate previous Hueys and construct a museum in Peru, Indiana. “The sound is one thing you’ll always remember. It will probably convey again good and unhealthy reminiscences, so it may be traumatic.”

Marshall was shot within the arm throughout an evening mission extracting three critically wounded troopers. That incident despatched him house, however it didn’t finish his love affair with the plane.

The emotions many veterans have concerning the Huey are “not one thing you’ll be able to clarify,” stated Melvyn “Mel” Lutgring. “It simply turns into part of you.”

Lutgring, a Louisiana native who served with the 174th Assault Helicopter Firm at Chu Lai in northern South Vietnam from June to November 1971, stated that particular attachment may need one thing to do with the bonds that males solid on the battlefield.

“You possibly can’t purchase that form of brotherhood for any amount of cash on this planet,” he stated. “The Huey brings that every one again.”

Lutgring liked being a crew chief on the machine, praised for its mild development, excessive maneuverability and reliability. “You would get it flying once more with duct tape and bailer twine in case you needed to,” he stated.

Jim Watkins, a upkeep specialist on a Huey hit by .51-caliber anti-aircraft fireplace that took out the engine, stated the chook may very well be utterly incapacitated and nonetheless land with out crashing. Shot down in Laos, he and the remainder of the crew spent two harrowing nights and three nerve-wracking days surrounded by the enemy, however all of them received out alive—after being rescued by one other Huey.

“I can recall only one main downside whereas flying—a hydraulics failure,” Marshall recalled. “And that was with greater than 1,000 hours flying time. It’s an extremely dependable machine.”

Bringing Peace

Now in retirement, Marshall has gathered sufficient tales from Vietnam veterans to fill greater than a dozen books about daring helicopter missions. A few of the tales come from veterans he met whereas doing volunteer work with American Huey 369 Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charitable group shaped in 2005 to revive Hueys and construct The Nationwide American Huey Historical past Museum. When accomplished, the museum will supply a complete historical past of the Vietnam Warfare’s iconic helicopter whereas serving as a spot for schooling and remembrance.

American Huey 369 has 4 Hueys which can be within the air once more. Within the fall of 2021, the group introduced house its fifteenth plane, an AH-1 Cobra with a powerful fight historical past that will likely be used as a static show. A few of the Hueys are taken to occasions for the general public to see, contact and even fly in in the event that they turn out to be members of the group.

Phil Marshall, who flew a Huey with a medical unit through the struggle, now volunteers his providers to the nonprofit group American Huey 369. (Courtesy photograph)

Marshall famous that at each occasion the volunteer crew comes throughout a minimum of one veteran who’s affected by his reunion with a Huey. “We need to assist him and convey him house,” he stated. “Convey him peace. That’s what it’s all about.”

Veterans who might haven’t but come to phrases with their time in Vietnam are usually not exhausting to identify, Marshall stated.

“They’re often standing by themselves within the distance staring on the Huey. Possibly their arms are crossed. We exit and speak to them and invite them to return nearer—even take a trip. It’s a therapeutic expertise. Hueys can have a strong impression.”

The interplay with the general public has the additional benefit of instructing youthful generations concerning the struggle, the sacrifices of the veterans who served and the necessary function of the Huey.

The Huey’s Iconic Standing

Though many different plane performed their components within the Vietnam Warfare, the Huey is probably going essentially the most recognizable and memorable. Nearly each soldier skilled or benefited from the Huey in one among its myriad roles—delivering beans, bullets, water, mail, troops, the wounded and firepower.

The primary helicopters that turned often known as Hueys entered service in 1959. Bell Helicopter Co. designated the plane the HU-1 Iroquois, and GIs dubbed it “Huey.” The designation modified to UH-1 in 1962, however the troops stored their title for the helicopter. The primary Hueys in Vietnam arrived in April 1962 as medevac helicopters.

As new variations of the Huey have been put into service, they have been recognized within the discipline by nicknames. Choppers used for medical evacuation got here to be often known as “Dustoffs.” Huey medevacs have been in a position to get the wounded from the battlefield to the hospital quicker than the transport planes utilized in World Warfare II and early helicopters of the Korean Warfare. That velocity, coupled with developments in medical care, meant a significantly better likelihood of survival. A soldier critically wounded in World Warfare II had a 40 p.c likelihood of survival. With the Huey and onboard medics, the survival fee jumped to 98 p.c as a result of the wounded may very well be in a medical facility inside an hour or much less.

Huey gunships had a nomenclature based mostly on their armament. “Frogs” carried grenade launchers on the helicopter’s nostril. “Hogs” or “heavies” carried giant rocket pods. “Weapons” or “lights” have been fitted with varied configurations of the fuselage and pod-mounted machine weapons, miniguns and smaller rocket launchers.

The model of the Huey used to move troops and provides was known as a “slick” as a result of it solely had door weapons, no exterior weapons mounted on its sides, leading to a fuselage with a easy, “slick,” floor.

Again to the Skies

Solely a few dozen privately owned Vietnam-era Hueys are flying of their unique army configuration. Three—a Dustoff, a slick and a gunship—are within the air because of American Huey 369.

The group’s president, former Marine Capt. John Walker, who was a pilot on Sikorsky CH-53 King Stallion cargo helicopters, bought Dustoff Huey 369 in December 2004 from an eBay itemizing. He traveled 1,300 miles to Maine together with his brother Alan to take a look at the chopper in January 2005.

Marketed as “principally full and never flyable,” the $40,000 helicopter lay on the flight line at an airport in Bangor, Maine, open to the weather. The transmission was rusted stable. Walker was OK with its situation as a result of he had no want to place Huey 369 again within the air, however that modified with the donation of a slick, Huey 803, and components of one other Huey in September 2005. Walker determined to revive the slick as a static show to boost cash for the whole restoration of Dustoff 369 so the helicopter might fly once more.

In November 2011, a restoration crew begins the primary weekend of labor on gunship 049, which was in Vietnam for six years. (Kae York/Courtesy of American Huey 369)

Huey 803 was thought-about too far gone to make airworthy once more, however it had a wealthy historical past in Vietnam, serving initially as a medevac within the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The helicopter participated within the November 1965 Battle of Ia Drang within the Central Highlands, the primary time battalion-sized items of the U.S. Military and North Vietnamese Military fought one another. Later Huey 803 was transferred to the 336th Assault Helicopter Firm with a brand new job and identification, Warrior 11. The Huey misplaced its skids throughout a tough touchdown in 1968 however hobbled again to Soc Trang within the Mekong Delta and landed on sandbags.

In mid-2007, Huey 369 returned to the sky. The American Huey group held a reunion in August 2007 for volunteers and veterans so they may watch it fly once more. As deliberate, Huey 803 was placed on static show. It had already been considered by hundreds of individuals at occasions that 12 months, offering them with the distinctive expertise of seeing, touching and sitting inside a historic plane.

Throughout the reunion, Richard Bowie, a director of an emergency medical group, donated a Huey turbine engine with the stipulation that it’s used to totally restore Huey 803. The core members of American Huey 369 went again to work, and in July 2009 Huey 803 was within the air.

A Painstaking Restoration

The group’s most up-to-date and maybe most exceptional restoration is gunship 049. Thought-about to be essentially the most traditionally important Huey to have outlasted struggle and returned to flight standing, Huey 049 defied all odds by surviving six years in a battle zone and accumulating 3,468 fight hours. These figures are unbelievable contemplating that half of the 7,000 or so Hueys that served in Vietnam have been misplaced in battle. Statistically, the life expectancy of a Huey through the struggle was three to 6 months.

Just like the Huey 803 helicopter, Huey 049’s extraordinary background contains participation within the Battle of Ia Drang. It supplied cowl fireplace at Ia Drang’s Touchdown Zone X-Ray as Hueys got here out and in of the LZ. The gunship was concerned in fixed fight from 1965 to 1971, earlier than persevering with service in varied items of the Military Nationwide Guard again within the States. Just like the uncared for Huey 369, the 049 chopper was in 2 ft of snow when Walker first noticed it in Minnesota. Regardless of the helicopter’s lack of rotors and head, he thought Huey 049 was price saving and hauled it again to American Huey’s Indiana hangar in June 2011.

Earlier than work started on this new acquisition, an entire XM-21gun system got here available on the market—a uncommon incidence at this time. The value was $55,000. Contemplating that the group had already restored two Hueys in 4 years with out a single money donation exceeding $1,000, the acquisition of this one-of-a-kind gun bundle appeared out of attain. “It’d as effectively have been $5.5 million,” Walker stated.

Huey gunship 049 and its pilot, Gary Kittles of the 229th Aviation Battalion, get some relaxation. The logo of the unit, The Smiling Tigers, is on the door behind Kittles. It was designed by The Walt Disney Co. (Courtesy of American Huey 369)

Huey 369, the preliminary buy, had been restored with no giant benefactors and no state or federal funds. The American Huey members relied solely on donations. “Fairly than ask immediately for cash, I like to inform individuals who we’re, what we’re doing and what we plan to do,” Walker stated. “We wish folks to offer as a result of they see the worth within the Huey’s therapeutic capacity for our veterans and the significance of preserving their historical past.”

Walker, together with brother Alan, co-founder of the group, his spouse Kae and 17 core members, raised the wanted cash to purchase the gun system, which was put into storage on the group’s hangar. In November 2011 about 45 volunteers gathered to convey Huey 049 again to life. With the gun pack as an added incentive, the volunteers have been desperate to tackle this new mission. “Honoring the fallen is a tremendous motivator within the restoration of a historic plane,” Walker stated. “It’s the gas that retains American Huey 369 forging forward.”

Nevertheless, he quickly acquired unhealthy information. After the top inspector, Dick Hosmer, examined Huey 049, he pulled Walker apart and informed him it could not be financially possible to make the helicopter fly once more. 20 years of neglect and decay—to not point out the abuse of serving in battle—had left the gunship with an excessive amount of injury to think about a full restoration.

“A Lifesaver”

Walker didn’t let that prognosis cease him. Huey 049’s wealthy historical past was simply one of many causes Walker launched his mission to revive it. One other motivation was the massive variety of veterans related to that specific Huey. Throughout its six years in Vietnam, 049 had are available in contact with a numerous variety of troopers. From pilots to gunners and crew chiefs, hundreds of lives had been touched by that historic warbird ultimately.

“The plane wanted to be completed as a result of so many veterans who have been related to it, immediately and not directly, are nonetheless alive,” Walker stated. He wished to offer them the chance to sit down—and even fly—in 049 once more.

“It’s a must to perceive, to those guys the Huey was a lifesaver they trusted to get them house,” Walker stated. “After I’m talking concerning the true worth of those Hueys, I at all times stress these plane are for all the blokes who didn’t come house and for individuals who did and keep in mind the Huey as an angel that extracted them from hell.”

After six years and plenty of assist from Vertical Elevate Elements in Texas, the 900-page work order was accomplished. Greater than 70 battle scars from bullets and shrapnel have been found through the restoration course of. Vietnam marketing campaign ribbons now mark the situation of the Huey’s struggle wounds. Huey 049 went by means of its first hover checks in January 2017 and is now flown to occasions together with the opposite restored Hueys.

The price in each money and time are virtually unfathomable, however Walker stated the restoration was price it. “Having the ability to reunite so many males with the precise airframe that they served in fight with is a priceless expertise,” he stated.

Huey 369 members use their restorations to share the legacy of the Huey and the struggle itself with youthful generations, together with these faculty kids attending an occasion in Greentown, Indiana. (Kae Walker)

Walker and his crew didn’t minimize any corners within the restoration. The weapons are genuine, together with rocket pods, miniguns, sighting techniques, ammo cans and feeding techniques. The instrumentation within the cockpit is totally trustworthy to 1964, and even the radios are unique army radios. The one trendy avionics aboard the chopper are the transponders.

The group has fourth soon-to-be airworthy Huey, donated by Lockheed Martin Corp. Though not in its unique wartime configuration, Huey 959 is in pristine situation and offers the museum one other 1st Cav plane whose historical past contains the Battle of Ia Drang, the place it served with Firm A, 227th Aviation Battalion.

Walker considers the three Hueys concerned within the Battle of Ia Drang a priceless treasure. “All of the billionaires on this planet couldn’t buy three airworthy helicopters from that one battle,” he stated.

American Huey 369 has given greater than 23,000 membership flights to individuals who attend its occasions and be part of the group for a $100 price. Members additionally get a photograph taken in entrance of the Huey after their flight and obtain personalised canine tags that come a number of weeks later.

The Museum mission

A groundbreaking for the museum was held on Aug. 14, 2021. The 34,000-square-foot construction is being constructed east of the Grissom Air Reserve Base exterior of Peru. Supported by donations, memberships and grants (however no state or federal funds or loans), American Huey 369 is greater than midway towards its $4 million purpose for completion of the museum.

A lot of the cash was raised by means of Founder’s Presents of $1,000. The names of these donors will likely be engraved on a 7-foot-tall bronze plaque, and details about them will likely be obtainable in a kiosk within the museum’s entryway. Honorary bricks that will likely be included right into a Memorial Pathway might be bought to assist assist the museum.

The bricks, $100 apiece, might be inscribed with the title of a liked one, a enterprise or a veteran. American Huey 369 additionally hopes to show bricks honoring the greater than 58,000 service members listed on “the Wall” in Washington.

Along with elevating funds for the museum, the nonprofit desires to create a wet day account that will likely be used for the longer term and to supply scholarships for Gold Star kids, the survivors of service members killed in struggle.
A gap date for the museum has not been set but, however development is underway.

Despite the fact that the Huey’s repute was earned within the gunfire of the Vietnam Warfare, that battle was not the one battlefield the place the Huey gained acclaim. Hueys have operated in Grenada, Operation Desert Storm, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Huey’s ongoing Legacy

The Huey is usually related to the Military, however its variants have been utilized by the Navy, Air Pressure and Marines, a testomony to the plane’s capabilities and versatilities. The Military retired its final Huey on Dec. 16, 2016, however the Huey continues to be being constructed for the Marines and international governments at a price of $30 million every.

The Huey’s army exploits are usually not the helicopter’s solely honors. The Huey rescued residents off rooftops after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005 and continues to save lots of lives throughout nationwide disasters. It is usually utilized by regulation enforcement, hospitals, media retailers, and search and rescue operations.

With its wartime legacy and the essential roles the helicopter nonetheless fills at this time, it’s not exhausting to know why the sight—and sound—of a Huey nonetheless attracts consideration. Whereas merely an fascinating machine to some, the Huey is a warrior, a lifesaver, an angel and most of all, a pricey previous pal, who continues to have an emotional tug on the veterans who comprehend it greatest.

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