We waited, anxiously. We were the beginning of the Hangar Crew. Where is she? The N.J. National Guard called. “We are turning on to Hurley Pond Road”. We raced out to meet her, UH-1D 64-13732.
We Vietnam vets gathered around in quiet awe. Ken and I, Huey pilots in Nam, hugged and cried.
Our job? We would turn this rusted hunk of metal, broken windshields, and missing parts into a restored icon. She was flown by the Hornets at Cu Chi. Appropriately, after twenty years in a Fort Dix field she was delivered with dozens of hornet nests. She would be proudly mounted at the New Jersey Vietnam Memorial.
Something was happening to us; a deep feeling, beyond brotherhood and bonding. What was it? There must be a word.
We gathered every Monday morning for fourteen months. Our leaders emerged. Guys seemed to know how to get involved. Bob, Bill and Gary became the chief mechanics. Ken, nicknamed our Head Rusty Nut, made coffee and efficiently supervised. Frank became the scheduler. Cappy enlisted his daughter Kelly (Picassa) to be our head painter. Eli, Mike and Mike, Jim and Jim, John, Tom, Dan, Ralph, Pat and Dick all chipped in. I with my clipboard and camera and Doc with his broom went about doing our thing. Iraqi vet Craig and Afghan vet Billy the Kid joined up.
We ordered “Huey Restoration Crew” t-shirts. We all signed the inside of the tail cone. Lunch at Mulligan`s became a routine, with laughs, hugs, insults, and pats on the back.
Needed parts magically showed up. No contractor or supplier said no to our requests. Strangers stopped at the hangar.
Our project was almost finished. We shared mixed emotions of pride in a job well done and some sorrow that the job was done.
On May 7, 2014 our Huey was dedicated at the New Jersey Vietnam Memorial. She was awesome on her mounting before more than a thousand people. And then, the surprise: whirr, whirr, whop, whop, whop, whine, whop, whop, whop. Yup, it was our Huey with recorded sound. Cheers, tears, hugs, and joy among vets, families and friends.
Oh yeah, the word, it`s CAMARADERIE: trust, solidarity, love, close friendship, amity, peaceful harmony. We have one another and for three hours every Monday nothing else seems to matter.
Peace my Brothers,
Captain Clipboard February 5, 2015
Note: Carl’s story is now in a national Veterans’ literature competition. You can follow the story here