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Monday, November 11, 2002 - 8:46:29 AM MST
Standing in the 'Shadow'
|Photo courtesy of Sgt. Bill Hill
A Huey resupply/medivac from Loc Ninh/Tay Ninh in April 1968.
RIO RANCHO It was nice to be standing In the Shadow of the Blade
again, even more so without the threat of enemy fire.
Thirty-three years after being wounded in Vietnam and evacuated on a
Huey helicopter, Kurt Hesselden of Farmington was visiting the
dependable old chopper again, just to experience "the feel of it:
You get 10 of them coming at you like that, it just seems like it shakes
the ground," he said.
He was in Rio Rancho Sunday afternoon, braving a blustery wind with
close to 100 other Vietnam veterans awaiting the arrival of a Vietnam
era Huey. Rio Rancho's expansive sports complex was the landing zone for
the restored Huey. The helicopter, built in 1966, is the star of a new
documentary, In the Shadow of the Blade being filmed by Patrick Fries.
Fries learned that close to 40,000 helicopter pilots were trained in
Vietnam and, as an aerial photography specialist, he's discovered many
of today's helicopter pilots once flew in Vietnam. Fries decided to find
out what would happen if he flew a Huey across the country, 30 years
after the war. The answers will be contained in In the Shadow of the
Lifting off from Ft. Rucker (Ala.) back on Oct. 2, the Huey made
seven stops at Florida sites, then had stops scheduled in Georgia,
Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. The Huey is slated to land
at Angel Fire and the Vietnam Veterans Monument today, then land at a
private site in Albuquerque on Tuesday, before flying east to Amarillo
Landing zones, or LZs, have included parking lots, school yards,
baseball fields, or virtually anywhere an "LZ" can receive it.
Vietnam-era veterans, many of whom hold the Huey dear to their hearts
like Hesselden flock to it to rekindle memories of three decades ago.
Understandably, in light of 57,000 American deaths in the conflict in
Southeast Asia, many of the memories are sad ones. Hesselden's are
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Bill Hill 199th LIB
A flight of Hueys for B Co. Eagle lands in Vietnam in March 1968.
Now 53 and a Farmington resident for the last 31 years, Hesselden
enlisted in the Army in Albuquerque when he turned 17. The son of a
combat engineer who had been wounded on Omaha Beach during the D-Day
invasion while clearing mined obstacles, Hesselden went through radio
school before being assigned to the 101st Airborne in early 1967.
In December of that year, he was sent to Vietnam, and assigned to the
199th Light Infantry Brigade, which was an automobile infantry unit.
With the 199th, he came under fire during the first and second phases of
the Tet battles in 1968, was wounded in May of 1968, and honorably
discharged in 1969.
Despite having been flown in a Huey "somewhere between 20 and 25
times on air missions," and suffering from a wound in his last trip
aboard a Huey, Hesselden videotaped the Huey's approach out of the east,
with the Sandia Mountains framing its arrival, and said he would have
loved to been taken up again, had it not been so windy Sunday.
"Just to be able to see one again, before they retire all of
them, that's great," Hesselden said before approaching the chopper
to check out the nose. "Other than the fact it wasn't firing
rockets at enemy guns, it's a beautiful ship."
"I think this is fantastic," said his wife, Vivian, doing
her best to stay warm. "He's just been so excited, and watching the
weather, I didn't want to see him get disappointed. He was watching the
weather. He really did want to get one last ride on it. I think he's