Memories of Vietnam
Vintage Huey helicopter flies into Madison
By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
Many helicopters were used during the Vietnam War.
The terrain in Vietnam some 30 years ago was that of mountains topped in old-growth hardwood jungles and poorly developed roads. The terrain eliminated the use of motor vehicles as a means to move troops and supplies. As a result, the U.S. Army used the helicopter. One of the most widely used helicopters during the war was the Huey. The UH-1 "Iroquois," popularly dubbed the Huey, was known as the "workhorse" of the Vietnam War.
Vietnam veterans in Madison got the opportunity to see a commemorative UH-1 Huey come to town as part of the "In the Shadow of the Blade" program in which a crew is actually flying a vintage Huey helicopter across America. The Arrowhead Film Company is making a documentary, interviewing Vietnam Veterans across the nation and asking them to share their stories about the war.
As the helicopter travels across the country, the trip will be tracked on the In the Shadow of the Blade Web site.
For Madison resident Arthur Jeffries, flying a Huey helicopter during Vietnam is an occurrence that hasn't faded from his memory.
Jeffries flew the Huey helicopter in 1969 – fresh out of flight school. Jeffries was an airlift pilot and flew – as he remembers – the D and H model helicopter. Seeing the Huey helicopter that flew into Madison brought back a lot of memories.
"The Huey was relatively new at this time and I was one of the only black pilots flying a helicopter at the time," Jeffries said. "I started flight school in July of 1968 and it took a lot of willpower to finish, but I did."
Jeffries said part of the training included memorizing the entire instrument panel in the event that he would fly the helicopter at night.
Jeffries finished flight school in May of 1969 and was sent to Vietnam in June of 1969. He flew the helicopter in Vietnam through September 1969. Jeffries said flying the Huey was not a difficult task and there was more than one occasion when the helicopter he was flying was shot at and hit.
"We never went down, thank goodness, but there was one time I can remember when the helicopter I flew was riddled with shots – one very close to the gas tank."
Jeffries remained in the military until retiring in 1980. It was the military that brought Jeffries to Huntsville. Seeing Huey helicopters flying around Redstone Arsenal brings back a lot of memories of the days when he flew the famous helicopter.
Jeffries said he is glad to know that a documentary is being done and Vietnam War veterans are being interviewed.
"It's a way to remember what happened, those who died, and to show respect to those who served," Jeffries said. "I'll be anxious to see the documentary once it's finished."
Editor's note: Three hours after the Huey helicopter landed in Madison and was toured by dozens of veterans and spectators, Jeffries was offered a ride in the helicopter, which flew over Madison and Huntsville.