Retiring the Last Huey

CW4 Lawrence Castagneto, 17 May 2011

Speech at Ft Rucker upon retirement
 of the last Huey


“Thank you Sir”

I would like to thank MG Crutchfield for allowing me to speak at this event and try to convey in my own inadequate, meager way, what this aircraft means to me and so many other Vietnam veterans.

First a few facts:

As a Vietnam Veteran Army Aviator, I would like to thank everyone for coming to this special occasion, on this to be honest very sad day, the end of an era. An era that has spanned over 50 years. The retirement of this grand old lady “OUR MOTHER” the Huey.

It was 48 yrs ago this month that the first Huey arrived in Vietnam with units that were to become part of the 145th and the 13th Combat Aviation Battalions; both units assigned here at Ft Rucker today. While in Vietnam, the Huey flew approximately 7,457,000 combat assault sorties; 3,952,000 attack or gunship sorties and 3,548,000 cargo supply sorties. That comes to over 15 million sorties flown over the paddies and jungles of Nam, not to include the millions of sorties flown all over the world and other combat zones since then what an amazing journey I am honored and humbled to have been a small part of that journey.

To those in the crowd that have had the honor to fly, crew, or ride this magnificent machine in combat, we are the chosen few, the lucky ones. They understand what this aircraft means, and how hard it is for me to describe my feelings about her as a Vietnam combat pilot for she is alive has a life of her own, and has been a lifelong friend.

How do I break down in a few minutes a 42-year love affair, she is as much a part of me, and to so many others as the blood that flows through our veins. Try to imagine all those touched over the years by the shadow of her blades.

Other aircraft can fly overhead and some will look up and some may not; or even recognize what they see. But, when a Huey flies over, everyone looks up and everyone knows who she is, young or old all over the world. She connects with all.

To those that rode her into combat the sound of those blades causes our heart beat to rise and breaths to quicken in anticipation of seeing that beautiful machine fly overhead and the feeling of comfort she brings. No other aircraft in the history of aviation evokes the emotional response the Huey does combat veteran’s or not she is recognized all around the world by young and old, she is the ICON of the Vietnam war, U.S. Army Aviation and the U.S. Army.

Over five decades of service she carried Army Aviation on her back, from bird dogs and piston powered helicopters with a secondary support mission, to the force-multiplier combat arm that Army Aviation is today.

Even the young aviators of today, that are mainly Apache, Blackhawk pilot’s, etc., that have had a chance to fly her will tell you there is no greater feeling, honor, or thrill than to be blessed with the opportunity to ride her through the sky. They may love their Apaches and Blackhawks, but they will say there is no aircraft like flying the Huey - “It is special.”

There are two kinds of helicopter pilots: those that have flown the Huey and those that wish they could have.

The intense feelings generated for this aircraft are not just from the flight crews but, also from those who rode in back into and out of the “devil's caldron. “ As paraphrased here from “Gods own lunatics,” Joe Galloway’s tribute to the Huey and her flight crews and other Infantry veterans’ comments:

Is there anyone here today who does not thrill to the sound of those Huey blades?? That familiar whop-whop-whop is the soundtrack of our war - the lullaby of our younger days. It is burned in to our brains and our hearts. 

To those who spent their time in 'Nam as a grunt, know that noise was always a great comfort. Even today when I hear it, I stop to catch my breath and search the sky for a glimpse of the mighty eagle.

To the pilots and crews of that wonderful machine we loved you, we loved that machine.

No matter how bad things were if we called you came down through the hail of green tracers and other visible signs of a real bad day off to a bad start. I can still hear the sound of those blades churning the fiery sky. To us you seemed beyond brave and fearless.  Down you would come to us in the middle of battle in those flimsy thin-skin chariots into the storm of fire and hell. We feared for you, we were awed by you. We thought of you and that beautiful bird as “God’s own lunatics” and wondered who are these men and this machine and where do they come from? They have to be “Gods Angels.”

So with that I say to her, that beautiful lady sitting out there, from me and all my lucky brothers, that were given the honor to serve their country, and the privilege of flying this great lady in skies of Vietnam - Thank you for the memories. Thank you for always being there. Thank you for always bringing us home regardless of how beat up and shot up you were. Thank You!!!

You will never be forgotten, we loved you then we love you now and will love you till our last breath

And as the sun sets today, if you listen quietly and closely you will hear that faint wop wop wop of our mother speaking to all her children past and present who rode her into history in a blaze of glory… she will be saying to them: “I am here; I will always be here with you.  I am at peace and so should you be and so should you be.”

(Picture not part of speech, added in respect)