The local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America plan to restore and display iconic Huey helicopter.
It's a long flight from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the environs of Kent County, but one bird has managed to make the trip.
Members of Chapter 850 of the Vietnam Veterans of America welcomed a UH-1 helicopter at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park during a brief ceremony held Monday morning.
Strapped to a tractor-trailer, but minus the rotors that will be added later, the UH-1's arrival capped a three-year effort by Chapter 850 to add the iconic helicopter to the park.
Although formally dubbed the Iroquois, this workhorse of the Indochina war was more familiarly known as the "Huey," primarily because of its original Army designation as a "helicopter, utility" or "HU-1." Although the Army later reversed the wording, the name Huey stuck.
"This aircraft was like a limousine to us," said Chapter 850 President Joe Startt, who served as an infantryman in Vietnam. "It took you into battle, and it took you out of battle."
Although it served primarily to move troops to and from conflict areas, the Huey also was used as a gunship, supply transport and as a vehicle of mercy.
Startt needed that type of Huey after he was severely wounded, suffering a gunshot wound in his neck, broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
"She came in, picked me up and took me back to safety," Startt recalled. "This aircraft is very close to my heart. Every Vietnam veteran knows what it means to them."
Although it will take additional research to determine exactly where and when the Huey served, much of its recent history is known. After initial requests to the Army were rebuffed, Chapter 850 Vice President Paul Davis learned of a group of UH-1s kept in storage in Melbourne, Fla. It took requests to the State Department and the support of Delaware's congressional delegation to finally secure one of them for Delaware's vets.
Technically, the Huey is on loan to the Vietnam vets, as the Department of State retains ownership of all of this type of aircraft.
Although this machine could be up to 50 years old – Hueys served from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s – it is in excellent condition, Davis said.
"I don't think it would take too much to get it up and running," he said. The interior, which could hold up to 14, is in particularly good shape, he added.
Flying the Huey was a dream, said former pilot Walter "Dubby" LeKites of Harrington. LeKites served four years on active duty as a warrant officer and is retired from the Delaware National Guard.
"When you're a young man of 25, and you're put in charge of a piece of machinery like this, it's physically exhilarating, especially when you're making it do what you wanted it to do," he said. "It just did a wonderful job."
The Huey was rugged as well, LeKites said. He saw aircraft return with 40 or more bullet holes in the fuselage; a 50-caliber round once took a chunk out of his craft's rotor, but the Huey made it safely back to base, he said.
"It was the Cadillac of the war," he said, "but it also was like a Chevy or a Ford. It got you where you needed to go and it got you back again."
After the arrival ceremony, the Huey was trucked to a storage facility in Leipsic, where it will be restored and then put on display at the memorial park behind Kent County Levy Court. The Huey will be mounted on a pedestal at an angle that will make it look like it's lifting off from the battlefield.
Getting the Huey has taken a lot of years and a lot of paperwork, but it will be worth the effort, Startt said.
"Seeing it here means the world to me and my fellow chapter members," he said.