RUCKER - Wop! Wop! Wop! The "Old Huey" gracefully lifted off
Howze Field at Fort Rucker last Wednesday morning, initiating the first
leg of the cross-country flight of the documentary In the Shadow of the
After two and one half years of preparation, "In the Shadow of the
Blade" finally lifted off.
The film is a documentary about taking a restored Vietnam era Huey
helicopter across America to land at many towns along the way to film some
of the people affected by Vietnam, to tell the story of those who served
and how they were affected, directly or indirectly, by the war, who they
were and who they've become.
"This is not about the missions, not about how many battles were
won or lost," said Pat Fries, executive producer and filmmaker.
"It's really about how peoples' lives were changed as a result of
their experiences in the Huey helicopter."
Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Novosel, of Enterprise, a
Huey pilot in Vietnam and also a Medal of Honor recipient, was the
co-pilot on the day of the liftoff.
Novosel said he was happy to have the chance to make the trip and that
the concept for the project and the documentary is much welcomed.
"The one word that describes the Huey in Vietnam is
ubiquitous," Novosel said. "Wherever you were in Vietnam, if you
didn't see it, you heard it."
Novosel flew hundreds of missions and never failed to make the 'dustoff.'
"The Vietnam war would not have been the same war without the
Huey," he said.
Retired Col. Lee C. Smith, of Enterprise, who last served at Fort
Rucker prior to his retirement was the master of ceremonies for the
departure ceremony at Fort Rucker's Howze Parade Field last Wednesday
morning. A Vietnam veteran, Smith commanded the 173rd Assault Helicopter
Company, the Robin Hoods, in Vietnam in 1968.
"The Huey is an icon...and it is only fitting that Fort Rucker,
the home of Army aviation, be the launching site of this mission,"
Aviation Center Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Curran told the crowd of military
personnel and civilians from Alabama and beyond who came to witness the
liftoff. Oct. 2 was specifically chosen for the start of the first leg of
the historic flight to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the events
that led to Novosel being awarded the Medal of Honor.
"It was 33 years ago, on this same day, Oct. 2, 1969, that Chief
Warrant Officer Michael J. Novosel...flew 15 extremely hazardous
extractions under intense, heavy enemy fire...saving the lives of 29
soldiers," said Curran. This great "dustoff" pilot is here
with us today and will be flying the co-pilot's seat on the first leg of
the journey." The old Huey and her crew will be heading to Pensacola,
Fla., for the first hop from Fort Rucker.
Curran introduced the keynote speaker for the departure ceremony, Joe
Galloway, 42-year career journalist with four tours in Vietnam and
co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young," which has been
made into a critically acclaimed movie, "We Were Soldiers,"
starring Mel Gibson. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf called Galloway "the
finest combat correspondent of our generation - a soldier's reporter and a
"Is there anyone here who doesn't thrill to the sound of the
Huey's blades?" asked Galloway. "That wop, wop, wop is the
soundtrack of our youth, the music of our war."
"If you spent time in the battlefields with the grunts you know
that sound. Ask any veteran and they'll tell you," Galloway said.
"Thanks Pat Fries for having a dream that turned out so
The concept for the film was already proving true even before the
official lift-off for the first leg of the cross-country journey.
"We flew into Fort Rucker Tuesday afternoon," said Flight
Director and Pilot Bruce LeMoine, "with Mike Novosel at the controls.
Later on some members of the Robin Hoods (173rd Assault Helicopter
Company) took a short flight to Dothan with us."
Everything was going along very smooth, quiet and calm for almost all
of the flight, LeMoine said. Nobody said very much at all. As the old Huey
approached the airstrip LeMoine eased off the throttle and made her
Wop! Wop! Wop! There it was again, that old familiar sound of the
blades thumping as they came in for a landing, LeMoine said.
"You should have seen their faces light up when they heard that
sound," LeMoine said. "You couldn't shut them up then...Do you
remember when...?...Did you ever...?...They went on and on. They were like
Many civilians and even some veterans' family members have never heard
the sound of the Huey blades, but Kim Douglas Sistrunk spoke for them as
she recounted the story of her own father, in the 1st Cavalry in 1969, who
was killed in action in Vietnam when she was only about a year old.
Sistrunk said she longed to find a connection to her father.
"The answer I found - he loved to fly," she said.
Sistrunk said the mission of "In the Shadow of the Blades" is
to "bring people together whose lives were unalterably changed
because of the war." Hers was, she said, telling the crowd that the
mission represents her father.
"I believe part of him is in the cockpit," she said.
In addition to Novosel, four veterans of the Vietnam War were chosen to
ride the Huey on the first leg of the journey to Pensacola, Fla., as
representatives of each of their parent services.
Retired Navy Master Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charlie Roberson served
in Vietnam from 1967 to '68 as a crew chief/door gunner and Detachment
Chief. He was awarded 13 Air Medals and the Purple Heart and many other
citations. Roberson, in the Navy from January 1950 to July 1978, attended
the pre-flight ceremony with his wife of 50 years Marjorie. They reside in
"I'm proud to be representing the Navy on the flight," said
The U.S. Marine Corps was represented by former 1st Lt. Mark Byrd who
served with HML-367 from September 1969 to September 1970, flying the
UH-1E gunship and later the Huey Cobra under callsign "Scarface."
His awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal for Valor
and 32 Air Medals. Byrd is now a sculptor in Dallas, Texas.
"I feel very lucky to be here," said Byrd.
Air Force representative Senior Master Sergeant Jim Burns served with
the 20th Special Ops Squadron "Green Hornets" and later with the
21st "Dust Devils." In Vietnam from 1967 to '68, Burns was
awarded the Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross (five awards), and 13
Air Medals. Since retirement, Burns builds scale models of aircraft of all
"I'm extremely pleased to be a part of today," said Burns.
The Army representative was former Private First Class Doug Ward, who
served as a crew chief/door gunner from 1966 t0 '67 with the 173rd Assault
Helicopter Company (Robin Hoods). Ward was awarded the Bronze Star with V
device, 2 Purple Hearts, and 16 air Medals.
"This is fantastic," said Ward, "I'm absolutely blown
away by it."
The Rev. Bill McDonald was a crew chief and door gunner with the 128th
Assault Helicopter Company stationed in Phu Loi, South Vietnam from
November 1966 to November of '67. McDonald was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross, Bronze Star, 14 Air Medals and the Purple Heart. He is now
serving as chaplain and the spiritual leader of the crew and will help out
along the flight as veterans remember their past associations with the
Huey and relive some of their old memories. McDonald currently resides in
Elk Grove, Calif.
The members of the flight crew also include Pilot Bruce LeMoine who is
an Army veteran with 23 years service and trained at Fort Rucker. LeMoine
is the son-in-law of Jack Reyes, Ozark businessman and longtime member of
the Fort Rucker/Wiregrass Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.
American Airlines Capt. Jim Palmersheim, with 11 years service, will be
one of the co-pilots for the journey.
After the flight crew was introduced, they all lined up on the parade
"Shadow crew requests permission to depart," said LeMoine as
he saluted Smith.
The crew did an about face and marched off to the Huey and loaded up.
The audience could hear the high-pitched whine of the engine turning up
and the slow whooshing of the blades as it began to turn.
A few minutes later the bird lifted up, turned to the left and pulled
pitch to meet her escort.
Shortly, the sound of those blades could be heard again in the distance
as the "Old Huey" made a fly-by with her escorts, an Apache, a
Blackhawk, a Kiowa Warrior, and a Kiowa Scout, and then disappeared in the
(Photo front): 4-year-old Collin Watters, son of Earl and Tracey
Watters, salutes the crew of the Huey documentary. His grandfather, Earl
Watters, who made Collin the calvary outfit, will be meeting the
documentary crew when the flight reaches New Mexico.
(Photo inside): The rotor blade of the 'Old Huey' casts a long shadow
in the pre-dawn hours before the liftoff Wednesday.