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“Iconic” is a funny word. Y’know how we pick up on new words from time to time? Like, I hear people saying “ludicrous” when we used to just say “ridiculous.” Or, “no problem” when we used to say you’re welcome.” Well, I picked up on “iconic.” I know what people mean when they say the word, but I looked it up anyway. Iconic is something that represents something else much larger than the iconic thing itself.

So, what’s your best guess for what would be iconic about the whole Viet Nam War experience? You got it! I’m sure your first guess was ………. “Yessss! The Huey helicopter!” We’ve talked about it before and will again now. Do you remember the whop-whop-whop! (or whap-whap-whap!)? Of course, you do. Since you were there, you’ve heard it many, many times. You can identify the sound of a Huey as easily as a biker can identify a Harley or a trooper can identify an AK-47 by their sound. That whop-whop-whop could be sweet or sour, depending on the circumstances when you were hearing it at the time. Such a circumstance could be a torrid fire-fight when your adrenalin was pumping and your heart was racing. You’d called in for medevacs. Now you hear that sweet sound - WHOP-WHOP-WHOP! (or whap-whap-whap). It was real nice to hear it coming. Remember? Of course, you do. Another circumstance would have been that day when your time was up. “No, I don’t mean the grim reaper. I mean when your ETS was close and you were leaving the field aboard that Huey slick - maybe the commanders own C & C slick (command & control, for you family members in this discussion). What a great day! What a great time, being in that Huey listening to that familiar iconic sound. You’ll never forget that sound, even to this very day.

It may be hard to believe, but many of those old war horses are still around. They were well built, well designed, and well tested under fire. Many are flying as civilian medevacs for casualties in remote places, for crashes on lonely stretches of remote highways. They’re used for mountain rescue and even for dropping retardant on fires in wilderness forests. I know there are plenty of newer helicopters out there now, but so are the old Hueys.

Moving on, Hueys divided into categories that were significant. First were the slicks, which you remember very, very well. It was the basic helicopter. It was called slick because it had no armament, except for a couple of M60 machine guns, one on each side. The slick was used for everything. It hauled people around like a taxi all over Viet Nam. It carried soldiers from the rear to the field, from the field to the hospital, from the reception station to wherever you were going for your year in country, etc. Slicks also hauled gear such as chow in mermite cans or cases of C rations (sorry I reminded you of Cs, but they were there and I know you remember them). Slicks also flew the ole man when a fire fight was happening - that was the C & C chopper (it wasn’t a Harley chopper, it was a Huey). That was so he could see everything and know what to command - a very practical concept, now that you mention it.

Some slicks were really slick - the medevacs. They couldn’t even have machine guns on their sides. The Geneva Convention ruled that. Our side was the good guys so we abided by the Geneva Convention which said that medical people were supposed to be unarmed (this applied to chaplains too). Trouble is, the bad guys didn’t always (didn’t usually) abide by the rules, but we won’t go down that road. Anyway, the medevacs slicks had big red crosses on the sides and top so it was crystal clear that they were medical Hueys. They were a beautiful sight when you needed then to haul out casualties, yourself included if you were a casualty.

There was another kind of Huey that was very common in Viet Nam. I’ll add that they were always very welcome too, very welcome, especially if you were out in the bush and under fire. We’re talking about the Huey gunship. If you’re a family member in this discussion, you might not know the difference between a slick and a gunship. However, if you’re a trooper who was out there, you sure know. So you, the trooper, can explain the difference to your family member and why the difference was so important. For our discussion here and now, I’ll say that the difference was what the name “gunship” implies, it was “loaded for bear.” They were heavily armed. Different gunships weren’t always armed exactly the same, according to my remembrance. Most that I remember had several machine guns mounted on swivels at each side of the helicopter. Some, especially the team leader, carried rocket pods with many deadly rockets on each side. A few were mounted with grenade launchers which popped grenades machine gun style out the nose (the gunship‘s nose, of course). All carried two gunners (a crew chief and a door gunner). Older model Huey gunships had regular machine guns, which I mentioned. The newer gunships that I remember had mini-guns. They were a smaller caliber that could fire thousands of rounds a minute. They were very fearsome. Actually, all gunships were very fearsome, if you were the bad guy. That’s why the troopers on the ground liked having them around. In the Blackhorse we had an Air Cav Troop that had an awesome arsenal of gunships and crews.

I’ll mention, as an aside here, that we called a helicopter a helicopter. Like I said already, pilots and crews also called them rotary wing aircraft because the main rotor was actually a rotating wing. Naturally, regular airplanes were called fixed wing aircraft. Guess why - you got it - because the wings stayed put. They didn’t rotate like a helicopter and didn’t flap like a bird. We never, never called them “helos,” or “copters.” I hear them called that by NCIS on TV or in the paper. No offense, but that sounds kind of funny to me. I can’t knock it, of course, because some are Marines who say that. But that’s not what we called helicopters. Some might have called them “choppers” once in a while. But not very often.

That’s about all I have to say about Hueys for now. I know that the whop-whop-whop sound can produce strong reactions and bring back all sorts of memories among Viet Nam vets to this very day. That’s something we need to recognize and deal with. And we do. But we don’t have time to go into detail today, so let’s agree to talk about it later or when we see each other wherever that might be.

My time’s up. But, as you know, I always finish off with something from the Bible, God’s Holy Word. Here are a few verses that fit our discussion that I think you’ll appreciate: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28b-31)

God bless you. God loves you. So do I.
Chaplain Larry Haworth