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Vietnam War Icon 'Hoisted' in Texas

I love the sounds of a Huey flying overhead in the morning

August 15, 2008
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

On the morning of Aug. 16 a restored U.S. Army UH-1 "Huey" helicopter will become a permanent fixture, greeting those driving into Mineral Wells, Texas, from the east.

That's when The National Vietnam War Museum will "Hoist the Huey" and celebrate this symbol of the Vietnam War with a program of activities culminating in lifting and mounting the helicopter by crane onto a support platform. The museum is located east of Mineral Wells on U.S. Highway 180, next to the Mineral Wells railway bridge.

Festivities will begin with the grand entrance of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle-riding veterans. The riders will assemble in the large parking area behind McDonalds' restaurant for their ride to the museum site at 10:15 a.m.

Bring a hat and lawn-chair. The museum will provide hot dogs to the first 500 attendees.

The Huey being hoisted -- tail number 65-10068 -- was purchased by the museum from federal surplus, according to Bobby Bateman. This flying machine saw action primarily with the 71st Assault Helicopter Company stationed in Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam. It was later used in Thailand, the U.S. and Germany. The Huey ended its career flying about 1,142 hours and experiencing combat damage from five to six incidents in Vietnam.

Bateman, who flew Hueys in Vietnam "every day," said this helicopter ran missions in I-Corps -- the northernmost military region of South Vietnam -- and most likely saw action in the mountainous jungle region -- flying down to deliver supplies, troops or gun support, often between groves of trees.

"Vietnam was the helicopter war," said Bateman, explaining why the NVWM was hoisting a Huey as its emblem to greet visitors. "The Huey was synonymous with Vietnam."

He said that he has heard veterans say that when they hear the distinctive sound "with blade popping" of the Huey, it reminds them of Vietnam.

"Hueys were the lifeline for ground troops. They were how you got out of the jungle or the delta," said Bateman. He added that they delivered "beans and bullets," including "food, clean clothes, letters from home, care packages and ammunition."

They also brought in troops and chaplains and carried troops -- living or dead -- out of the jungle.

The "Huey" -- formally known as the Bell UH-1 Helicopter manufactured in Fort Worth -- could fly at low altitudes and speeds, land in small clearings, carry seven loaded troops or 3,000 pounds and maneuver to dodge enemy fire. It could also carry powerful armaments including machine guns, rocket launchers or grenade launchers.

The Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Association estimates a total of over 40,000 helicopter pilots and 12,000 helicopters from all services served in the Vietnam War, with 7,013 of the machines being Huey helicopters, mostly under the U.S. Army.

Huey training took place at Ft. Rucker, Ala., according to former pilot and Mineral Wells resident Mike Wells. He said most pilots advanced to Ft. Rucker after they graduated from primary training at Ft. Wolters. Before heading off to Vietnam, Wells said that pilots put in 200 hours of training on Hueys.