Friday, May 27, 2011

Requiem for the Huey: The Army retires its last UH-1 in a ceremony at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

They heard the hum of our motors, they counted the rotors

And waited for us to arrive . . .

And we would all go down together

-- Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel.

A deep genuflection and tip of the boonie hat to Irregular FG for forwarding this link and the speech accompanying it (also found here.)
CW4 Larry Castagneto who flew the Huey in Vietnam, speaks at the UH-1 retirement ceremony at Cairns Army Air Field, 17 May 2011. His speech below:

As a Vietnam Veteran Army Aviator, I would like to thank everyone for coming to this special occasion, on this to be honest...very sad day, the end of an era. An era that has spanned over 50 years. The retirement of this grand old lady "OUR MOTHER" ... the Huey.

I would like to thank, MG Crutchfield for allowing me to speak at this event and try to convey in my own inadequate, meager way.. what this aircraft means to me and so many other Vietnam veterans.

First a few facts:

It was 48 yrs ago this month that the first Huey arrived in Vietnam with units that were to become part of the 145th and the 13th Combat Aviation Battalions; both units assigned here at Ft Rucker today. While in Vietnam, the Huey flew approximately 7,457,000 combat assault sorties; 3,952,000 attack or gunship sorties and 3,548,000 cargo supply sorties. That comes to over 15 million sorties flown over the paddies and jungles of Nam, not to include the millions of sorties flown all over the world and other combat zones since then ....what a amazing journey.... I am honored and humbled to have been a small part of that journey.

To those in the crowd that have had the honor to fly, crew, or ride this magnificent machine in combat, we are the chosen few, the lucky ones . They understand what this aircraft means, and how hard it is for me to describe my feelings about her as a Vietnam combat pilot.... for she is alive... has a life of her own, and has been a life long friend.

How do I break down in a few minutes a 42 year love affair, she is as much a part of me, and to so many others,,,as the blood that flows through our veins. Try to imagine all those touched over the years the shadow of her blades.

Other aircraft can fly overhead and some will look up and some may not; or even recognize what they see but, when a Huey flies over everyone looks up and everyone knows who she is... young or old all over the world she connects with all.

Jumping from a Huey.

To those that rode her into combat... the sound of those blades causes our heart beat to rise... and breaths to quicken... in anticipation of seeing that beautiful machine fly overhead and the feeling of comfort she brings.

No other aircraft in the history of aviation evokes the emotional response the Huey does... combat veteran's or not... she is recognized all around the world by young and old, she is the ICON of the Vietnam war, U.S. Army Aviation, and the U.S. Army. Over 5 decades of service she carried Army Aviation on her back, from bird dogs and piston powered helicopters with a secondary support mission, to the force multiplier combat arm that Army Aviation is today.

Even the young aviators of today, that are mainly Apache pilot's, Blackhawk pilot's, etc., that have had a chance to fly her will tell you there is no greater feeling, honor, or thrill then to be blessed with the opportunity to ride her thru the sky... they may love their Apaches and Blackhawks, but they will say there is no aircraft like flying the Huey " it is special".

There are two kinds of helicopter pilots: those that have flown the Huey and those that wish they could have.

The intense feelings generated for this aircraft are not just from the flight crews but, also from those who rode in back ...into and out of the "devils caldron". As paraphrased here from "Gods own lunatics", Joe Galloway's tribute to the Huey and her flight crews and other Infantry veterans comments:

Is there anyone here today who does not thrill to the sound of those Huey blades?? That familiar whop-whop-whop is the soundtrack of our war...the lullaby of our younger days it is burned in to our brains and our hearts. To those who spent their time in Nam as a grunt, know that noise was always a great comfort... Even today when I hear it, I stop...catch my breath...and search the sky for a glimpse of the mighty eagle.

To the pilots and crews of that wonderful machine ...we loved you, we loved that machine.

No matter how bad things were...if we called ... you came... down through the hail of green tracers and other visible signs of a real bad day off to a bad start. I can still hear the sound of those blades churning the fiery sky ....To us you seemed beyond brave and fearless... Down you would come to us in the middle of battle in those flimsy thin skin -chariots ...into the storm of fire and hell,..

...we feared for you , we were awed by you. We thought of you and that beautiful bird as " God's own lunatics"... and wondered ...who are these men and this machine and where do they come from ...... Have to be "Gods Angels".


So with that I say to her, that beautiful lady sitting out there, from me and all my lucky brothers, that were given the honor to serve their country, and the privilege of flying this great lady in skies of Vietnam - Thank you for the memories...Thank you for always being there...Thank you for always bringing us home regardless of how beat up and shot up you were..., Thank You!!!!.

You will never be forgotten, we loved you then..... we love you now... and will love you till our last breath ...

Downed Huey.

And as the sun sets today, if you listen quietly and closely you will hear that faint wop wop wop of our mother speaking to all her children past and present who rode her into history in a blaze of glory ...she will be saying to them: I am here... I will always be here with you.

I am at peace and so should you be ... and so should you be.

Huey at sunset in Vietnam.


Cat said...

Awesome article. When I think of the 'nam, I think of the Huey.

Anonymous said...

A touching speech.
Truly, the end of an era.
There can only be one first, and the Huey was "it" for many, in so many ways.
ANd yes, I did ride in a Huey, at least once, in training. An awesome experience, never forgotten.

B Woodman
SSG (Ret), US Army

Maddawg308 said...

The Jeep defined WWII. The Huey defined Vietnam. I always loved riding in the back of them. Thanks for the great article!

Pat H. said...

I did get to crew on Hueys during the last three years the NC Army Natl Guard had them at Raleigh, they transitioned over to AH-64's and UH-60's after that.

The UH-1 was unique, the sound, the ride, and the history.

DC Wright said...

We had Hueys, we still do that I know... now into the Whiskey model. We have the Cobra and we yet have the H-46, the Sea Knight (or Frog). I remember those days on the flight line at Phu Bai. Our CH-53s, the other squadrons' hueys and Frogs and even some Korean-vintage UH-34Ds that were the first birds I worked on out of school...

Anonymous said...

As I read this article, I cry. I learned to fly this sweet old lady in 1967. Through two tours in Nam the Huey served me well. Shot down three times and many more times she brought me home full of holes and often stained with the blood of my fellow warriors.

I flew every single-engine model of the Huey except the Tug - yes, I even flew the HU-1A (before they were redesignated the UH-1A) with the big instruments only on the right side.

I went on to fly Cobras and years later I retired from active duty - but even today as I write this, there is a picture of Hueys lifting off an LZ hanging on the wall right above my desk.

Goodby sweet lady - you will be missed -but you aren't gone - you will live on in the hearts of the thousands of us that truly love you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! As a former Infantryman who rode, Instructor for the 101st ABN Div (Air Assault) who worked as crew member instructing young troops what it meant to have this wonderful tool,and as a current Medic I am moved by this pilots description of all this machine has meant to so many, and for so long. Thank you for your description of what many would say about her. Air Assault Huey!!

John, Pensacola, FL
101st ABN DIV AAS 1977-1981

Anonymous said...

I too will never forget the sound of those rotors. I have many rappels, Stabo and SPIE rig, helocasting, and lots of inserts and extracts in a Huey, they were the best. Thanks for the ride!!!

Semper Fi, 0321

TypicalClinger said...

Never rode one in or out of combat, but I did get the privelage of being picked up out of FTX at Fort Benning back in the 80's. The first time I saw them come down in that field that smoke blowing around...I was 18..I could feel the connection to all those who came before me. I could hear Ride of the Valkyries in my head. I have never forgotten it.

Anonymous said...

I flew in the Big red One and the 25th in 69-70 Flew slicks and Hueys outfitted with crew searved mini guns , starlight scopes and search lights called "Night Hawks" in both units, left Nam with almost as many night hours as daylight.There will never be another Huey. God Bless Bell Hellicopter.

Anonymous said...

They may be retired, but they ain't DEAD yet. There are hundreds of those birds that will be restored to combat config and flown all over the country. You'll see them at air shows with other warbirds.

This might be a time for some to stand up and join a restoration crew, and carve out a piece of one for yourself.

Things have changed, but the bird still lives.

Anonymous said...

The Amry might have retired it but the Huey is still very active and working with the Dept of State and NGO's in Iraq. In fact, they could fly when the Blackhawks were grounded due to brown outs.

Van in the Hinterland