Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Take Me Home Huey Documentary Tells the Story of Healing for Vietnam Veterans

By Carmelo Turdo
This weekend, communities across America will honor veterans of the U.S. armed forces with parades and activities designed to show appreciation for their military service in past and current eras. Originating in 1938 as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, this federal holiday was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor those serving in World War II and the Korean War as well. Since then, we have also recognized veterans of the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the current on-going campaigns against global terrorism, the collective Cold War forces and all who served in supporting roles in the U.S. and around the world. But as many veterans know, returning to stateside service or civilian life following deployments is not smooth or easy, and those who survive the horrors of combat often never fully leave he combat zone. They live there long after their tour is over, and as in combat, it takes teamwork to complete the mission of coping with the aftermath of their experience.
The term Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has come into the common lexicon almost three decades after the condition was recognized in 1980 by the American Psychiatric Association. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, the definition of PTSD is: "A mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault." PTSD has probably always existed for those who have endured traumatic experiences throughout history, and it was recognized as a set of behaviors by the Swiss as far back as 1678. From the American Civil War to the Korean War, combat soldiers demonstrating PTSD in combat were often mislabeled as afraid to fight.  The Vietnam War veterans were hit especially hard when returning from combat to a nation that did not welcome them home.  Some of those returning soldiers, unable to cope with their transition to civilian life, lost their families, turned to alcohol and drugs, and became part of the homeless veteran community. Veterans from current conflicts face the effects of extended or repeated deployments.  PTSD is a real factor for them as well.

Inspired by the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, artist Steve Maloney conceived and created Take Me Home Huey, a sculpture consisting of an actual Bell Huey medevac helicopter, an icon of the Vietnam War. The aircraft is wrapped with artistic renderings of the symbols of the popular culture during the 1960s-70s, and contains a time capsule of veteran-donated items.  The aircraft is part of a nation-wide tour that is designed to connect with Vietnam veterans that may still be coping with PTSD and offer a catalyst for the dialog and healing that is still eluding many to this day.    

Take Me Home Huey arrived in St. Louis to Honor Vietnam Veterans in October, 2016

By Mark Nankivil
A special traveling exhibit, Take Me Home Huey, has landed in downtown St. Louis near Soldiers' Memorial to begin a week-long stay in the Gateway City.  It did not actually fly in - it came on a flat bed truck - but it nonetheless made a conspicuous appearance.  What looks to be a complete Bell UH-1H Iroquois (s/n 67-17174), better known as the Vietnam-era helicopter workhorse nicknamed "Huey," is actually a unique piece of art.
Officially dubbed a mixed-media sculpture by its creator, Steve Maloney, it is in fact the aircraft mentioned above that was shot down in combat during the Vietnam War with the loss of two crew members while on a medical evacuation mission.  The aircraft was acquired from an Arizona scrap yard by Light Horse Legacy, a non-profit organization that restores helicopters for the combined purposes of educating the public about aviation and assisting veterans of all armed conflicts with recovery from the effects of PTSD.  Take Me Home Huey has been on tour since April, 2015, as a partnership between artist Steve Maloney and Light Horse Legacy, to raise awareness of the need for improved understanding and treatment of PTSD experienced by our veterans. 

The helicopter featured in Take Me Home Huey is painted to illustrate themes of the Vietnam War-era, starting of course with the Huey as the iconic symbol of the conflict.  Arranged on the helicopter roof are stuffed duffle bags and psychological operations speakers, while the rest of the fuselage and tail are covered with a wrap containing pop culture images and slogans in graffiti-art style that pervaded the 1960s-70s.  The intricate design must be seen up close to be appreciated, and the public is invited to visit the exhibit while it remains in downtown St. Louis.  Here are some more views of Take Me Home Huey after it arrived:

The documentary film, Take Me Home Huey, premiered at the palm Springs International Film Festival in January of 2017. The film has received critical acclaim as it has rolled out across the country on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) affiliates, and it was available for screening at the NineNetwork of Public Media Sunday.  Several hundred Vietnam veterans gathered to view the hour-long documentary and other special exhibits at the Dana Brown Communications Center in downtown St. Louis. 

Outside of the building, a Bell OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter from the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation Gateway Chapter was on display.  Although the OH-58 served primarily after the Vietnam War period, it attracted the veterans and started many conversations and possibly new friendships.  Special thanks go out to the volunteers that are restoring this and other U.S. Army helicopters, including a Huey, at Creve Coeur Airport. 

Parked just outside of the building was one of the 50 Mobile Vet Center units that deploy when needed to assist veterans located in rural areas or during emergencies such as the recent hurricanes and flooding that struck the southern U.S.  The Mobile Vet Center units act as community-based centers to assist veterans in receiving their earned benefits and making a successful transition from military to civilian life.  Special thanks go to Dr. Senoria Brown (pictured below) and her crew for their hospitality.       

Just inside the lobby and in an accompanying studio was John Hosier's Through the Eyes Traveling Vietnam Museum exhibit of military uniforms and memorabilia that gave a visual insight into the Vietnam War experience. Hosier, a Vietnam War infantry veteran who became a combat photographer after being wounded in action, later returned to Vietnam to participate in humanitarian work that proved therapeutic for his PTSD symptoms. His displays have been seen across the nation, and his theatrical renditions of "Mail Call" and "Christmas on the 4th of July in the Jungle" are very moving. Special thanks go out to John Hosier and his selfless dedication to helping his fellow Vietnam veterans cope with the effects of their combat experiences.

The Take Me Home Huey film screening was held in the studio adjacent to the Through the Eyes Traveling Vietnam Museum displays.  The film documents the transformation of the derelict Vietnam War veteran Huey helicopter into the work of art pictured above, including encounters with the surviving crew and the relatives of the two crewmen killed when it was shot down during a medevac mission.  The film will be broadcast in St. Louis on KETC NineNetwork Tuesday at 10pm local time.  Below are some views of the veterans gathered for the screening and a preview video. 

Following the movie screening, a panel discussion, moderated by Jim Kirchherr, Senior Director of Content for NineNetwork, highlighted several important points made in the Take Me Home Huey film.  The members of the panel were (seated L-R below): John Hosier, Vietnam veteran and Curator of Through the Eyes Traveling Vietnam Museum; Dr. Eric Berla, Vietnam veteran and pilot of the Huey helicopter used in the Take Me Home Huey project; Repps Hudson, Vietnam veteran and freelance journalist; Dr. David Klein, Clinical Psychologist with the VA St. Louis Health Care System.

John Hosier: "We set up the museum and started putting the artifacts in it.  Little miracles started to happen...As we set the museum up to trigger emotions, we find that healing started to happen."  Hosier related a time when a Vietnam veteran told his grandson that he flew helicopters like the ones in the museum photos, and a veteran next to him asked about his unit.  Two newly acquainted veterans felt safe enough to have a conversation about their experiences.  Another Vietnam veteran brought his son, a Gulf War veteran, to the museum and they were able to share their experiences together.

Dr. David Klein: " One thing that I was struck by in the film is how isolated the pilots were in their pain, and trauma is profoundly isolating.  That's part of the condition, and that is also part of the problem...Part of the healing is about connecting in a safe way and telling your story except that's a profound risk for a lot of people.  Finding a way to do that in a way you feel safe is what ties together that uniqueness of all the different stories."   

Repps Hudson: "For me the healing process was going to group therapy in Kansas City in 1979...telling my story to the other guys who were all enlisted, forgiving me for what I did. That was really important.  And then going to the dedication of The Wall in 1982.  There were hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans there.  That was extremely important.  And now I work with vets, and all that's good."

Dr. Eric Berla: "I think what this project did for the three pilots and the door gunner is that it brought us all together.  I had been through, by that point, a lot of healing already, but being together with the surviving crew member who was voluminous in his praise of how I was, helped a bunch.  And reaching out to the other two pilots helped me...Nobody else gets it.  I clammed up."  He thanked the VA for their efforts and all those who produced the film.  

The Aero Experience thanks the NineNetwork for hosting the Take Me Home Huey film screening event and those mentioned above who participated in making it a meaningful experience.  We encourage our audience to view the film where available, and host the Take Me Home Huey traveling art exhibit in your community.

1 comment:

Sandy Parks said...

An informative blog and great story of the efforts to get knowledge of those with PTSD out. Thanks.