Monday, July 30, 2012

Huey Helicopter at Price of Freedom Exhibit in D.C.

Huey Helicopter at Price of Freedom Exhibit in  D.C.
I have mentioned this helicopter before. A few times. And not just because it was a photograph waiting to be taken. We go to D.C. often, and when there, we always visit the Huey. These are new photos. For those who know the story, just skip to the photos. For those who don't....

This helicopter landed in our backyard in Georgia in 2002 for the filming of the documentary, In the Shadow of the Blade. My husband and I sat on her, renewed our vows in front of her, and in the midst of candlelight, watched as our dear friend, Col. Ben Purcell, opened up a case filled with small mementos of his time spent as a POW in Vietnam and told a moving story about each one. Col. Purcell spent 5 years in Vietnam, much of it in solitary confinement.

When this Huey, affectionately known as Huey 091 (for her tail number) to those of us who spent time with her, lifted off from our Georgia river home, my husband and Col. Purcell were aboard. It was the first time my husband, a USMC doorgunner in Vietnam had been on a helicopter since he left Vietnam, and the first time Col. Purcell (United States Army) had been on a Huey helicopter since the one he was riding in on that fateful day was shot down. When he heard he was being released, he joked to his men, "I hope they don't send a Huey for me." They didn't.

Sometimes, things don't tell all the stories. Those who file by Huey 091 on the 3rd floor of the National Museum of American History, are treated to a moving short movie and a few facts about the "bird" that saved so many lives in Vietnam. Lives were also lost in Hueys. Thousands were put into use in Vietnam. Half were destroyed. 

This Huey flew 10,000 miles in the making of the documentary. It landed in backyards and fields, touching the lives of those who know instantly the "whop-whop" sound that only a Huey can make.

A year later, Huey 091 took off on another role and flew many more miles. One of her stops was at Quantico Marine Base. My husband greeted her there where he was allowed to co-pilot her. After that, she made two more stops before making her final landing on the National Mall. We were there to greet her. By that time, even I could tell the "whop-whop" sound, and what a sight she was as she appeared over the National Monument.

Visitors to the exhibit will notice some strange artwork on the door. But there are no placards to explain the heartfelt artwork. My husband, a folk artist, painted his iconic symbols on the door for the filming at our home in Georgia. Around the crude POW symbol, a white dog, fireball, and a squiggly with two hatch-marks, along with my husband's signature can be seen. Except for the POW symbol, these symbols appear in all of his artwork, even in his non-Vietnam paintings.

What do the symbols mean? In Vietnam, a white dog hung around his hooch. He considered the dog a lucky charm. The fireballs in his paintings he calls, "Messages from 'Nam." The squiggly is in the form of a "D" and is there in remembrance of his friend, Danny Dean McGee. They played high-school sports together, and together, they joined the Marines on the buddy program. Danny was killed by a sniper in Vietnam.

My husband pinned a photo of Danny inside Huey 091 during it's travels. It is hard to see, and you may have to stand on your tippy-toes but it is still there, on the starboard side. The patches were pinned inside during its American tour of duty.

Another piece of trivia concerns the pilot in the captain's seat. He was actually one of the people who helped the producers of the documentary pull together not only the team, but the Huey (a relic of her old self that sat in a small Texas museum), and the much needed parts, as well as starting an aggressive fundraising campaign. The captain was a reservist at Fort Rucker and a pilot for Southwest Airlines. And of course, he was an expert in all-things-Huey. Though never in Vietnam, he sat in the pilot's seat from the day she lifted off the ground in Texas until the day she landed at the National Mall. He sits there today, and will for another 15-20 years; the face of the pilot is an exact likeness of Bruce LeMoine

This Huey belonged to the Robin Hoods in Vietnam. Before the filming, the Robin Hood emblem was painted on the nose after extensive work. The producers were also able to find the mechanic who worked on Huey 091 in Vietnam. Naturally, he has a big part in the documentary.

There is more trivia, but a little more commercialized, so I will keep that to myself.

Thank you to all who served in Vietnam. Next time you are in D.C., stop in and see Huey 091. You can practically hear the "whop-whop" as you round the corner. 

Click here to order documentary. Info for teachers and how to host a showing can also be found at this site. It is a must-see for students and organizations like the VFW and American Legion. It is also a must-see for anyone who ever had a family member serve in combat in Vietnam and for anyone whose served in Vietnam. In my opinion, it a must-see for everyone. Students and groups planning trips to D.C. should view the DVD in advance of their trips.


Jackie said...

D.C. is a place that we haven't visited (yet)...but I can assure you that when we do, we WILL go and see the Huey 091. My deepest and most sincere admiration and appreciation to your husband...and to all those who have served our country. I will always be that I cannot pay but one for which I am always grateful.

Anonymous said...

It was a honor to work under the A&P of this project,I signed my name in the hell hole of this ship not even knowing this ship was going to carry out another mission as it did on it's last journey. When I saw it on discovery channel tears rolled down my face knowing I had a part in this,maybe someday I will be able to see on display.My hats off in honor of all who served.