A new monument stands in Arlington National Cemetary, VA, that honors the fallen pilots and crew members of helicopters during the Vietnam War. The memorial was dedicated on April 18, 2018, and according to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) approximately 3,400 were in attendance, including Vietnam veterans and Gold Star families. Air Force Bell UH-1N helicopters conducted a flyby during the ceremony, hailing from 1st Helicopter Squadron at Joint Base Andrews.
The memorial serves as a reminder for the almost 5,000 pilots and crew members killed in action during the Vietnam War. Etched on the front:
1961 – 1975
In honored memory of the helicopter pilots and crewmembers who gave the full measure of devotion to their nation in the Vietnam War.”
Introducing helicopters to the battlefield was a major game changer. While the use of military helicopters could technically be dated back to WWII, it was only routinely used first in the Korean War. During the Korean War, the use of helicopters as ambulances that could infil and exfil with relative ease and speed had a significant impact on the fatality rate compared to previous wars.
By the time the Vietnam War rolled around, helicopter technology had made leaps and bounds; at the onset of the U.S. involvement in the war, production would again increase significantly.
The helicopters in Vietnam would become an absolute necessity in jungle warfare. Airstrips are few and far between, but for a helicopter to land, all you need is a clear patch of ground and enough security to pop in and out. For troops engaged with the enemy on the ground, this meant a surge in ammunition and medical supplies, medivac-ing the wounded (which meant saving their lives and also increased freedom of maneuver as you don’t have to take care of your wounded), and quick reinforcements when possible — easily turning the tides of many battles that would have otherwise resulted in total losses. This is not to mention the gunships that provide necessary fires on enemy positions with a precision and consistency that cannot be had from a plane flying by hundreds of miles an hour, though there are obviously many pivotal uses for that too.
Still, anyone who has flown in a helicopter into combat — certainly those who pilot and/or crew the bird — knows that it’s a giant flying bullet magnet. There is no cover in the air, and if enemy combatants have a clear view of an American helicopter, they are most likely going to fire on it. Helicopters train extensively on quick infils and exfils for this reason, to mitigate any unnecessary seconds spent on target.
Needless to say, helicopter pilots and their crew put themselves at great danger to accomplish the mission and many have made the ultimate sacrifice. They have saved countless lives of men and women on the ground, they have been instrumental in taking valuable objectives, and they are always a relief to hear echoing in the distance as you wait for them to pick you up. No doubt this relief was felt tenfold for the soldiers on the ground in Vietnam.
They have also been personally responsible for pulling yours truly out of several hairy situations, and I will always be forever in their debt.
Featured image: Turbojet Helicopter of U.S. Army’s 118th airmobile company in assault formation, rush to the D-Zone to lift out a Battalion of Vietnamese rangers who completed their mission after an 8- day penetration operation against Viet Cong Guerrillas in the jungle mountains, 75 miles north of Saigon on Feb. 12, 1963. The operation was repeated three times until all 297 troops and a U.S. Military Adviser were hauled out | AP Photo/Horst Faas
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