tv Oral Histories National Archives Display of Vietnam War- Era Helicopters CSPAN December 29, 2017 3:40pm-4:06pm EST
p.m. eastern. this week "washington journal" features authors of key books published this last year. join us for live conversation with authors about their popular books. coming up on saturday, jessica brooder with her book "nomadland," and on sunday, author chris whipple with the gate keepers, how the white house chiefs of staff define every presidency. washington journal's authors series all this week at 8:00 a.m. eastern on c-span, c-span.org and c-span radio. we're live at the national archives in washington, d.c. where they've just opened an exhibit on the vietnam war. and we're here with gerry sigo. gerry, why are you out here today with these vietnam era
helicopters? >> to help the archives bring attention to this remember vietnam series. our continuous goal to honor vietnam veterans by displaying vietnam era helicopters. >> sometimes the vietnam war is referred to as the first helicopter war. why is that? >> well, the helicopter after found out the utilization of it, it was multiple uses, the helicopter took the place of trucks, jeeps and other equipment that have been used in other wars. medevacing troops was a big key from the field. and they could put troops in a lot more efficiency with ease, quicker and safer. if you believe it's safer, it actually was. driving along roads that could be ambushed even though they took aerial fire, but they could pinpoint them into a place
quicker. a lot of things were learned by the utilization of the helicopter, like our medics. so not only war but brought a whole new industry out there for the use. >> uh-huh. can you tell us about your own personal experience? when did you serve in vietnam, did you volunteer or were you drafted? >> all helicopter pilots were v volunteers. it wasn't something you were told you were going to do. i flew lift ships and gun ships for a total of nine months. then i went to maintenance, which wasn't necessarily safer than being shot at every day, because in maintenance you were subject to failures. even though the maintenance guys did great jobs, there was things that happened even with new equipment you would get. maintenance guys did great jobs,
thing that happened even with new equipment. and produced a great aircraft but still things happened to them. you have failures in any equipment. you go from one danger to another with helicopter in vietnam. >> and when were you there? >> i was in central highlands in '68 and '69 with the 52nd aviation battalion. >> can you describe a little bit what a typical day would be like? >> you would get up in the morning, be assigned your mission. some time at night you go and know what your mission is going to be the next morning. it could be hauling supplies out to the field to troops. it could be taking commanders out to observe their troops. it could be doing insertions with 20 or 30 helicopters or even more to insert large groups of troops into the field. this helicopter here was used
for commanders to go out and see where their troops were and what they were doing. also it would go out with two gunships and it would fly low level along the roads in order to draw fire. when it would draw fire, it would get out of the way and then your gunships would come in and lay down fire in the area where they indicated. the primary objective was to draw fire to locate troops or locate the enemy, enabling your armed gunships to come in and lay down fire in that area. it consisted of a pilot and observer to mark the area where the fire was coming from. your gun ship pilot would be the gunner pilot in the front, knew
at all times where this bird was and where his 12:00 was. he say i'm receiving at 9:00 or whatever he immediately knew where to start training to cover fire that area immediately. >> how long did you stay in vietnam? >> i was there a year. i was nine months in gunships and three months in maintenance. flying maintenance. >> and when you came home, did you have a career in the military? >> no, ma'am. i worked with an architectural firm until i retired. >> do you miss working with the helicopters? and how often do you get out and talk to the public about your service? >> i actually stayed away from military because i was just busy
and raising a family for about ten years. then i became involved with the national vietnam helicopter pilots association before we formed the north carolina association. after obtaining the first aircraft, we found there was a need to educate the public as well as educate school kids and just the general public and bringing honor to the vietnam vets by doing this. we'd been doing this for 25 years. from pennsylvania to florida, kentucky, tennessee, we've had over 300,000 students in schools go through these aircraft. not only can we take them to a school as a historic item, we can also relate to their other courses of studies in doing this and may be able to enable a student to pick a course of study he never thought about. we also would take them to places they wouldn't be able to
take normal, ordinary aircraft. we've been up in the mountains in kentucky up into virginia mountains to places where kids and adults can come out to view the aircraft. we're bringing history to the people who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to see the aircraft. >> thank you very much for talking with us. >> thank you. we're live at the national archives in washington, d.c. where they've just opened an exhibit on the vietnam war with peter goch. what can you tell us about this helicopter that's behind us? >> this is the famous cobra, which came about by the development of the first armored helicopter. we originally used a charlie model helicopter, which was part of the lineage of the hueys. hueys started off with an a
model, a b model. and they took the b model and enhanced it and made a c model which was primarily a gunship. nay found they needed to carry more of a load. this was based off of the h model or d model huey aircraft. they made it narrower, two pilots and a lot of armament. >> when did you serve in vietnam? and did you volunteer or were you drafted? >> i was eligible for the draft. and rather than being drafted, i enlisted for the draft. they had a program where you could enlist for the draft. and enlisting for the draft it gave you some choice as to what you were going to enlist for. so i decided i wanted to try to become a helicopter pilot under the officer program. grew up as a kid watching all the famous world war ii movies with the world war ii pilots.
i thought it would be interesting. and i had a strong dislike from walking long distances with large weights on my back. >> so how different was the vietnam war from the world war ii that you grew up learning about as a kid? >> when i grew up almost all of my friends' parents in one way or another were involved in world war ii. it was part of the baby boomer generation. so most everybody was either in the service or had something to do with the service. so just from being able to watch the old movies, watch the ground movement through europe had a particular interest in the aircraft that flew over europe so that was one of the main reasons that i wanted to be a pilot in vietnam. i felt that was where the equivalent of fighter pilots would be. >> and when you went through the training and arrived in vietnam,
was it anything like you expected? >> absolutely not. no. you always heard about when we were in high school and what have you how hot and how humid everything was a rice paddy. there were certain part offense vietnam that were like that, but i was stationed up in a mountainous area. very green, very lush, very beautiful country. so we always slept with blankets at night. it was just a beautiful, beautiful area. so it was nothing at all like what i thought about as far as what vietnam was supposed to be like. of course, you never really have an idea what war is going to be like. so i really didn't have any p preconceived ideas about the war part of it. >> can you describe what a typical day would have been like? >> i did two separate tours in
vietnam. my first tour, i flew the famous "h" model huey with an aviation company known as the bykynys. our typical day was fly all day every day. we would get up first light, get breakfast. go to the flight line and get assigned an aircraft. we usually had the same aircraft, same crew. we pretty much went out on our own the whole time and contacted who we were supporting and we would fly all day, contact the person we were supporting. they would tell us what they needed, whether it was to take supplies out to troops on the ground. we did everything from taking people out, inserting them into
the hot areas, picking people up, bringing people fresh food, hot food, change of clothes. the big thing that people really enjoys the troops on the ground was when we brought their mail out. unlike today where they have constant communication with their family, these people would get marry once a week, every other week, something like that. and it was certainly a high point of their spending time out in the field. the. tr troops on the ground, some of them would spend two, three, four weeks on the ground in the jungle without getting a break, sometimes without even getting a change of clothes. so they're out there that long. your job as aviators was strictly to support the troops on the ground. >> can you tell us a little more about this aircraft? it's considered an assault helicopter? >> right, this is an armed assault helicopter. this, at the time back in the
late '60s. it came to the country in '67 or 1968. it's an assault hock. considered the hot rod of the helicopters at the time. it was a lot of fun to fly aside from the part that it was dangerous. you had a front seater who was a qualified pilot. he sat up there, and they controlled the turret site for the turret guns and at backseat was normally the aircraft commander and he sat in back and controlled the aircraft and the rocket pods. although he could fire if turret in a fixed position. >> is that the turret down there. >> that is. on this we have a mini gun and a grenade launcher. the pilot and copilot, gunner, would switch duties. the aircraft can be fully flown
and controlled from the front. >> and just two people? >> just two people. and weld we would, again, in this one, take off first thing in the morning where we were being staged and what our mission was. once we were out in the field, it was our responsibility to rearm the aircraft, refuel the aircraft and check over the aircraft and make sure the maintenance and everything -- make sure it was still flyable. >> right. how have you found being out here, talking public about your service in vietnam? >> this is the third time i have done this type of program. it's a wonderful experience. we have a lot of people that really have misconceptions. it's great for them to come out. they have seen pictures of cobras and stuff, but haven't come up and touched one, realize how large they are, and how small it is on inside.
how narrow it is. so it's been very nice. the people that have come by have been very grateful to us and very warm. and so it's -- actually had a man that came up with his son or grandson yesterday, and said to me how proud he was of us, and he said, you know, in the '60s, i was one of protesters, and he wasn't really proud about that at this point. so it was really heartwarming to see something like that. >> what was it like for you when you came back from vietnam? and what year would that have been? >> i came back from vietnam -- i left vietnam the day before -- actually it was christmas eve of 1970, and i was back home in connecticut on the christmas day
in 1970, and that was the termination of my military service. coming back, it was not like it is today. you know, we had to fall right back into your civilian way of life and people didn't really recognize vietnam veterans. you didn't really talk about it. and you just put it behind you and tried to go on with life, so -- >> did you have to deal with a lot of people who were very critical of our involvement in vietnam or do you just not talk about it at all if. >> i had very few people that bothered to bother me about that. most of them mainly didn't know i was involved in vietnam. i was never really in that kind of situation where people were trying to attack me or anything like that. >> yeah. and you have enjoyed our time talking to the public? >> i loved it. it's been a fantastic
experience. grateful that the archives did this. my grandson and i were down at the wall the other day. it was a wonderful experience for them. i ran across a man down there and he said, where were you in vietnam. i said i was at camp holdway. he said, for you a by keyny? i said yeah. when i flew cobras, i was in the 361st. i need to mention that. we were known as the pink panthers. this is the pink panther patch. very proud of that unit. both companies were in the central hiellands. we supported with the bikinis, the special forces. with the cobra we supported the special forces out of conton, so
it was a very interesting couple of years. >> thanks for talking to us. >> i appreciate you having me. thank you. thank you. >> we are lye at the national ar vooifs in washington, d.c. where they have just opened up an exhibit on the vietnam war. we are here with edmond hughes, former helicopter pilot. tell us how you ended up in vietnam. >> in 1968 i just finished my second year of college and received word that i was going to be draft sod went down, signed up, joined the army. you can go to officer school, flight school, and that's what i did. as soon as i graduated in 1970 i was en route to vietnam. >> can you talk to us about your role in a helicopter? >> okay. well, a huey of course is a 13-passenger aircraft if it's being used for combat to call combat troops in and out of the field this. unit is said up as a medevac
aircraft. has three lines for three patients. if we are trying to pick up a patient, we can drop that jungle penetrator down 200 feet, strap the patient on, retrieve him and take him to the hospital. as this aircraft is set up, you would have a crew chief of two medics, two pilots. if it was a slick aircraft, all of this internal equipment would be gone and you could haul a total of 12 people, two members, two crew chiefs and combat lo loaded troopers. it's max weight 9,000 pounds. designed to cruise at 90 knots. designed to cruise at 2 1/2 hours on fuel.
>> what would it be like if you were transporting troops to an area out in the field? how long were you on the ground usually? did you often come under fire? >> we would get our missions every morning when we went to operations. if we were doing cargo, weld be working for an infantry unit, the specifically the supply people in that unit. could be anything from hauling ammunition to rations to water torque hot meals, occasionally. if it were on a holiday, we could be taking turkey for thanksgiving day. in those days we didn't use go/no-go charts. we just loaded the aircraft. normally, for that type of supply, they had a landing zone. weld land, kick it all off, go back, take another load to somebody else. if it was a hot l the z, weld go in, push off as fast as we can,
because it makes a pretty good target. >> were you frequently shot at then? >> frequently. we took a lot of shots. a lot of round, but, you know, like they say, flight is hours and hours of boredom interspersed with a few seconds of stark raving terror. shot at a lot, but it didn't become an every mission, everyday occurrence. >> two pilots up front? >> yep, that's all that's required but in combat, you had two pilots in case somebody got hurt up front. in a lot of units we all train your crew chiefs to fly, so if both of us got hit, they could at least land the aircraft or get it back to get us to a medevac unit. just safety. >> how long did you serve in vietnam? >> 12 months from july to july, '71. >> how about when you came home? >> i fell in love with the army.
i stayed 24 years. i tell people i loved every minute except when i was willing shot at. >> did you do not fly. >> i flew helicopters for 15 years of 24 was act tiffly fiv flying. >> how have you found communicating to the public. >> easy and it's been a great experience. we have talked to people from about 13 different countries of people that have come in here, plus of course the americans so it's been a lot of fun. >> the war obviously very controversial. have you had anybody approach you these last few days with criticism about the war? >> no. >> not at all? >> no. >> and the last helicopter that we were in front of was an assault helicopter anded the the words "widow maker" emblazoned on the side. can you talk to us about why some have names on the side and what that's all about.
>> the aircraft that's being referred so is an attack aircraft, it's being called the widow maker. what it's mission was was to eliminate the enemy and make widows out of their spouses. that's why it was named the widow maker. different units had different policies. the unit i was in, the 116th, the hornets. all our platoons had hornets on the noses. refed, yellow, and white. we all had names. my aircraft was named spirit in the sky. because my crew chief came to me when norman came out with that song and said, we got toe new name. that's the ring tone on my phone. i love it. >> thank you very much for talking to us. >> good. >> lawmakers will be back on capitol hill next week. the senate is back on january
3rd and will welcome two no lawmakers. alabama's doug jones and mince's tina smith. the house returns two days later on the 8th. two new issues at hand, government funding. as the temporary funding runs out the 19th. also, this year's state of the union address. the speaker invited trump to address them on the 30th. you can watch the house live on c-span and the senate live on c-span 2. c-span paps student kafr. the tweets say it all. video editing and splicing for constitutional documents. this group showed us how it's done and these asked some hard hitting questions about immigration reform and the d.r.e.a.m. act. we are asking students to choose
a provision of the u.s. constitution and submit a video showing why it's important. it's open to all video and high school students grades 6th through 12th. $100,000 of cash prizes will be awarded. $5,000 grand prize will go to the team with the best video. get details on our website at studentcam.org. american history tv is looking back 50 years to the vietnam war. this year, the national archives in washington, d.c. opened its first ever exhibit on the war and has three huey helicopters on display outside. we talked to pilots who flew them in vietnam about their experience. this is about an hour and ten minutes. >> now i ask all vietnam veterans or any veterans who served d