Tuesday, November 10, 2015

TOP STORY >> Vietnam War helicopter restored

Leader staff writer

An Army helicopter used during the Vietnam War is back on display at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History. On Saturday, Sam Grimes, the crew chief of that Bell UH-1C “Huey” helicopter, was there for its rededication.

The helicopter was restored by volunteers from the 913th Air Reserve Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“At least she’s not in the scrap pile like so many end up. It is close to when I had it, a lot cleaner,” Grimes said.

Grimes, 70, of Snowflake, Ariz., served in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1968. He was stationed at Pleiku. Grimes started out in maintenance for five months and then transferred to the flight platoon in April 1967.

“We resupplied food, weapons and transported troops. We were then known as the Courtesy Cab. If you needed to go someplace, we’d come get you,” Grimes said.

He was a helicopter crew chief for nine months, until he left the military in January 1968. “I turned the ship over to a friend, and that was the last I saw her until 2013,” he recalled.

Grimes was doing research, trying to find his helicopter. He discovered it was at Central Flying Service in Little Rock. Grimes and his wife, Trudy, went to Little Rock in 2013 to find the helicopter and visit the School for the Deaf, where his father went to school.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew,” Grimes said.

“Originally, she had rocket pods on the side and a 40 mm gun turret on the front of the nose. The door gunner and I shot a 160 machine gun off the door. It had 14 rockets, 500 rounds of 40 mm shells and 2,000 rounds of M16 ammo for each of us,” Grimes said.

He also said his helicopter was always the lead ship. They flew low, level with the tree tops. Sister ships would take hits from the enemy because the enemy fighters on the ground would see his helicopter first and would start spraying shots toward the other helicopters.

“I never took a round. When I went on leave, that is when it got hit,” Grimes said.

He added that, for a small-town museum, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History is one of the best.

“She is preserved for future generations for those who want to know about the Vietnam War as it is compared to now,” Grimes said.

The helicopter is permanently on loan from Dick Holbert,
who owns Central Flying Service in Little Rock.

The helicopter was to be displayed at the Arkansas Aerospace Education Center in
Little Rock, across the street from Central Flying Service, but that center closed.
One of the Jacksonville museum’s volunteers is a friend of Holbert
and convinced him to send the helicopter to Jacksonville.

The helicopter arrived at the Jacksonville museum in 2012. It was pulled on a trailer in the second annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans parade before being restored this year.

Museum board chairman Joan Zumwalt said at the dedication, “Today represents what can be achieved when determined civilians, cooperative city officials and employees and generous members of the military can do when they band together to achieve a goal.”