By Lauren Wanko
Veterans roll up their sleeves each Monday to bring this veteran back to life — Huey, a 1964 military helicopter that served two tours in the Vietnam War.
“It means everything to the Vietnam veterans who rode in those, fought from those and that’s predominantly almost everyone who went over there,” said New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation Executive Director Bill Linderman.
“For three years, Huey was my whole life. That was my job. The Huey was the iconic image of the Vietnam War,” said Huey Restoration Project Project Manager Ken Gurbisz.
Known as the Helicopter War, more than 7,000 Hueys flew in Vietnam. The helicopters transported soldiers to combat assaults, brought much-needed supplies, carried wounded soldiers from the field. The Huey was a lifesaver to these veterans. And now they’re devoting their time to restore it.
The veterans have been working on the project for nearly a year. So far they’ve logged more than 3,000 hours. This isn’t a job for these vets, it’s a mission and an opportunity to bond.
“The thing that’s important to me is being with my fellow veterans. No matter where you’re a veteran from you’re a brother,” said Dan O’Leary.
“It’s a form of therapy. It’s a brotherhood and when I have missed a couple of times I did I felt horrible and when I got back it literally was like being back home,” said Bill McClung, combat medic for the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam.
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation received the Huey from the New Jersey National Guard. The veterans — both young and old — unite around the helicopter.
“Everyone asks what’s it like to work with the old guys and you know it’s not really the old guys. If you sit around and close your eyes and talk to them it’s the same stories, same scenarios, just different times,” said Marine Sergeant William Carolan.
They sand, paint, seal the doors, reinsert some of gauges in the instrument panel, paint and reupholster the pilots’ seats. All so future generations can understand and appreciate the Huey’s history at the Vietnam Era Museum in Holmdel.
“We believe in our military again and we’re proud of our military again, and even though 40 years ago we confused the warrior with the war, that’s changed in recent times and partly because Vietnam veterans said it will never happen to another generation,” Gurbisz said.
“With this project and projects like this, it will help Americans realize what we’ve sacrificed and what the American people need to remember so we don’t repeat our past,” said Carolan.
The Huey will be unveiled at the Vietnam Era Museum in May on Remembrance Day. The helicopter will be dedicated to all the air crews who served in Vietnam.