The old Huey helicopter served her country, and the men who flew in her in the skies over South Vietnam — she has a couple of bullet holes in her skin to prove it.
Minus its engine, seats, instruments and most of its controls, her green paint faded, the old girl from the Vietnam War proudly took her place Friday morning at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Brownwood. She arrived on a flatbed truck, brought in from a north Texas scrap yard.
The iconic Huey — officially known as the UH-1 Iroquois — is the most recent acquisition of the Central Texas Veterans Memorial Committee, which battled military red tape for more than two decades before finally getting the helicopter it sought.
Members of the committee and other veterans worked Friday morning to remove the helicopter from the trailer, park it safely on a concrete pad and attach its big two-blade main rotor assembly. Little is known about the helicopter’s history. A Medevac symbol is the only hint of her wartime mission.
Plans are to paint and restore the helicopter to its appearance when it flew in Vietnam.
“We have a UH-1 helicopter that was the iconic helicopter from the Vietnam War,” Dr. Steve Kelly, past president of the veterans memorial committee, said. “There were 6,994 Hueys deployed in Vietnam for many different missions. We have been trying to obtain a similar Huey helicopter for this park since 1992.
“We have been unsuccessful because of the red tape and regulation related to military hardware. We were finally able to obtain the helicopter and are pleased, to say the least. This is one of the final additions to the memorial.”
Kelly said the Huey got its name because it was initially referred to as HU — helicopter utility — which became Huey.
“Mission accomplished after 26 years,” Kelly said.
People who view the Huey should be reminded “to thank the veterans — all veterans, especially the veterans from Vietnam, who were not exactly welcomed back the way veterans from World War I and World War II were,” Kelly said.
Harold Stieber, president of the Central Texas Veterans Memorial Committee, said a “sizable donation” enabled the committee to purchase the Huey.
“Oh, we’re ecstatic,” Stieber said. “It’s the jewell of the exhibits out here. We’re just proud to be a part of this and present it to the community at large, and to the veterans who served so gallantly.”
Vietnam veteran Butch Blair, who served in the Army as a door gunner on Hueys, said the sight of the Huey at the veterans memorial Friday morning “brings back a whole bunch” of memories.
“Makes me want to jump in and try to find a pilot,” Blair said. “I miss it. I’m I’m 71 years old. I really miss it.”
Another Army veteran who served in Vietnam, Tom Gray, said he was transported with other soldiers on Hueys. Gray recalled being in a Huey about 12 feet off the ground when the engine blew. The Huey crashed, and the soldiers and crew had to “low crawl out of the thing” to avoid the still-spinning rotor blades.
Gray also recalled riding in a Huey that flew in to pick up wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. Gray saw the green tracers that characterized North Vietnamese ground fire, but the Huey was not hit.
“The Huey was the most instrumental vehicle in the Vietnam War,” Gray said. “It was a means of rapid removal of soldiers from the battlefield. It probably saved a lot of lives.”
Seeing the Huey Friday morning, Gray said, brought back “a ton” of memories.