Casper aviation platoon Casper Platoon Story
Silly Ole Crew Chiefs & Their Flying Machines
By: Terry Gallagher, Crew Chief Casper 031
This site was last updated: 2/15/15
Most of you are aware that I keep records of tour related illnesses and deaths for members of our platoon, and I still also search for other members of our platoon that have not been found yet. Several years ago, I felt that many of us survived all that has been "thrown" at us in Vietnam as well as from the VA since we have returned and if we could survive that, why not then some of our helicopters. So I began searching for some of the 58 helicopters from our platoon that I know were shipped out of Vietnam and most back to the states. The VHPA let me purchase their CD that has almost all helicopters on it that served in Vietnam with their history. The problem is that the history only goes up until 1975, and although that at times seems like "yesterday", that is 38 years ago with a lot of water spilling over the dam and many gray hairs (or snow on the mountain). I soon found it very challenging and frustrating in my search as it seems that records since 1975 are very sketchy at best, but mostly nonexistent, but something compels me to keep looking. I guess always in the back of my mind was that I would want to find mine more than anything, but finding any of our choppers was exciting. This past year they officially retired our Hueys. Many are flying with National Guard units and there are no records as to where they are or with what units they are or were flying. But Veterans Organizations and Memorial Parks throughout the nation are requesting Vietnam Era helicopters for static displays and with the official "retirement" in affect now, more and more are being donated. Usually when they are donated, they are in flying status, they merely drain the oils and fuels, remove the batteries and avionics. Thus far I have managed to locate only five of our helicopters. It is mostly by "shit" luck that I find them.
The first one we located is 958 that are on static display in Muskegon, Michigan at a Vietnam Veterans Park there. I learned of that through the website story when Don Sholett was located by the VFW out there by finding his name in the ships log books as being the Crew Chief in Vietnam and he was invited out to paint the Casper Ghost on her nose before she was put in the air on display. 958 was never officially assigned to Casper, she was assigned for most of her time to the 173rd Assault helicopter group, but for several months while we were "short" of ships, she was on loan to us. Seeing the story and photos is heartwarming, but whereas I go out to Michigan every year for LZ Sparky's weekend, I just had to drive by and actually see her...I have been there several times and on every occasion that I visited the memorial park, I have met people there and I tell them about the Ship being a warbird and about our platoon. It is hard to describe the feeling I get standing under her and relating stories about Casper Aviation Platoon and what we were about, and that the ship is actually one of ours to anyone I have met there. No...I'm not interested in being a tour guide.
The second ship I found is 061...Doug Walton (our beloved Short Round) was a door gunner on her. She is actually at an Aircraft and parts place in North Dakota and is for sale with a "five Huey" deal asking 4 million for the five birds. I understand that there is a "deal" going on now that may be accepted by the end of this month. Of course the buyers information will be keep secret, but I have asked that when and if she is sold, they would please pass along my information, our unit's information and her history they I had sent to the dealer and they can feel free to contact us anytime for additional information. Hopefully the new owners will do that, but I get the feeling that it is an "out of country deal" and they only thing that is holding the sale back are permission from our government to let the units leave the US. I will keep checking on her periodically.
The third helicopter I found was through Rob Rousseau. It is 390, one of our LOH-
The last two ships I found were just this past month. I happened to mentioned to my brother what I was doing, and he asked me to email a friend of his that worked on disbursing ships to different places when they came back from Vietnam. He sent me a list with approximately 300 returned helicopters classified "Army Junk and Where is it now". I found two of our helicopters on it with "possible locations" dated 2000.
One is 097 and was sent to the town of Analgesia Alabama and is on static display right at the entrance of their airport. I contacted the Mayor (retired) who was one of the primary people responsible for getting the ship for static display along with a retired Lt Colonel who was a pilot in Vietnam with the 17th Air Cav. He wanted a ship for display lettered and decaled like the one he flew in Vietnam...So she is on display there like his ship would have been in Vietnam. However, this ship was not in his unit. After the Mayor confirmed the serial number for me from the paper work they got with her from Ft Rucker, she was one of ours. I will go see her probably end of February or the beginning of March and take some photos.
The last ship I found was 031. I tell you, it is an awesome feeling to find our survivor helicopters, but when you read a list of 300 serial numbers and spot your own helicopter among the numbers, you re read it at least 25 times.
I can't really describe the feeling that came over me, but it was kind of like finding a lost love, finding your first car that gave you your independence and your first real step toward "adulthood" though many will argue that I ever became an adult. I actually had tears running down my face. I got on the phone next day to the VFW post that had my ship on display. Of course I got an answering machine, but I left my name and call back number. I need to confirm the whole serial number of the ship, as though the last 5 digits of the tail number were there (17031) the first two numbers depicting her year (66) were not...there was a "0" instead. But I just felt she was mine. The VFW called me back and I asked him to confirm her number. He could not as he didn't have the paper work, but he told me that when they got the ship, they had asked for a ''war bird" but on picking it up from the Iowa National Guard, the Commanding Officer told them she was never in Vietnam, only a trainer in the US, but she was a Vietnam Era Bird so he doubted that it was my ship from Vietnam. They were thrilled to get the Helicopter for display, but somewhat disappointed that she was not a war bird. He did however give me the name and phone number of the gentleman who was instrumental in getting her and had paper work that came with her. I called Les (in his 80's) and told him that I believed it was my ship and asked for her whole serial number. He re iterated what the previous caller had told me that she was not a war bird and read the serial number off the paperwork. 66-
I informed him that he indeed had a warbird, that this sorry ole ass had over 1400 hours logged in the left side Crew Chief's seat as a door gunner, and that she had a very proud history of service in Vietnam with at least two combat outfits and never failed to get any of us back home regardless of how bad she got shot up on several occasions. I think at that point, ole Les was crying too. He was ecstatic to find out he had a true war bird on display. One sad note, she was flying the day he pick her up and transported back to the VFW post in 1999, but the "transporter's" fee for transporting was her engine. So her engine was removed so this hayseed could put it in one of his competition pulling tractors. Geeeeeeeeeez, that was sacrilegious in my humble opinion! Les does not believe he did anything with the engine though, so my "quest" is going to be and try to get her back and have a "D" Maintenance party out there some weekend and put her engine back in. Les's quest is to get her painted, decaled and labeled as she was with Casper Aviation Platoon and have a re dedication ceremony for her with as many of us who can attend to be there as well. In the Spring I am going out to meet Les and talked to him about plans to do all this. I also want to erect a plague for her and our unit to be installed at the VFW post as well. I sent Les photos of her while she was in Vietnam, the VHPA history as well as some of the "stories" of the bullet hole patches that are on her (several of which came during the rescue mission over Ned's ship 721 when Ned Costa, Cliff White, Walt Henderson and John Steen were shot down and "controlled crashed" as Sugar Bear and Cliff like to explain). Larry Kahila who was my A/C most of the time with 031 has been down to see her and met Les and took more photos.
I know most of you probably do not understand my "fascination" and "fixation" on finding our "survivor" helicopters, and I really can't describe the feeling that comes over me when I find them, actually go to see them, stand beside them or under them as most static displays are 12 feet in the air mounted on stands, but to me it is a special feeling. Most will probably think it is a silly ole veteran's silly ole fixation about silly ole flying machines and a little silly to even pursue. However, if you are anything like me, you merely have to get up close to something that you took care of for a year so it would take care of you in an extremely dangerous envoirment, you spent hours and hours of time in and working on, saved countless lives of people you served with, transported the unfortunate ones in indiscriminate yet poignant body bags so that they can make the "final" trip home to their loved ones, and more often than not, brought you safely back "home". I can safely say that finding future "survivors" will never be as 'fulfilling" as finding my own, it may however be just as fulfilling to other Crew Chiefs. The Crew Chief's always stayed with their ships. They never changed. Sometime Door Gunners changed and switched around, pilots changed often, but the ships belonged to the Crew Chiefs. They were our sole responsibility and we took extreme care of them throughout our tours, so being an ole silly Crew Chief, the feelings are a little different.
Oh yeah...and the proverbial kick in the shins (other places too) for ten years of searching for my helicopter, I found her in Adrian, Michigan at the VFW post. Ironically, for the past ten years I have been going out to LZ Sparky's in Michigan every year which is about four hours from where I found her, and she is only about an hour from Larry Kahila's house in Michigan. I guess next time I should start in my own back yard. I would ask that if during your travels you go by a Huey, LOH-
Terry Gallagher: firstname.lastname@example.org