On Feb. 14, 1969, U.S. Army Huey helicopter #174 was gunned down while on a medical rescue mission in Vietnam, killing two of the crew on board. What's left of the U.S. Army helicopter has been turned into art, but it has also helped to heal veterans suffering from PTSD.
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Contemporary artist Steve Maloney partnered with Light Horse Legacy to transform the helicopter into a mixed sculpture and multi-media project Maloney called "Take Me Home Huey." Dedicated to the more than 2 million Americans that served in Vietnam, Maloney restored, reskinned and repurposed the helicopter into a 47-foot long sculpture decorated with the names of the crew chief Gary Dubach and medic Stephen Schumacher who died in the crash.
The exhibit has visited military and aircraft museums across the country in hopes of sparking a dialogue for veterans dealing with PTSD.
“It has connected them and has been a catalyst for their conversations for sure. We've heard that talk is good and they've confirmed it is now a healing helicopter and that's our mission," Maloney said.
The project also reconnected the surviving crew of Huey helicopter #174. It has been 50 years since the pilot, Dave Adams, and the door gunner, Ralph Tutrani, had seen each other. Take Me Home Huey has allowed them to share their story and the details of the crash with the families of the crew who died.
"We flew out and everything was normal until people started shooting at us...I can remember seeing a guy in a khaki uniform and a helmet shooting at us," Adams said.
According to Adams, the helicopter took fire.
"I could smell a JP4, which was the helicopter fuel, and I could see smoke coming out from the back...eight weeks before that we lost an entire crew and several patients. They were taking fire in the fuel cells and the aircraft exploded - we lost the crew of five and seven patients. Frankly, to be honest with you, that's what's going through my mind the moment we were told we were trailing smoke,” recalled Tutrani, who was shot in the hand.
Adams added: “I'm 78 years old and there's not a day that goes by that I haven't thought about the people we lost and always blame myself."
Adams said the crew chief Gary Dubach and medic Stephen Schumacher were tossed out of the helicopter and killed by the rotor blades. Tutrani discovered their bodies. "That's something that I live with every day…and still to this day and I recall calling out to Gary and Steve and they weren't responding and I crawled over to other side and you just imagine what that was like…and I crawled back over,” Tutrani said.
Although time has passed, the memories from war haven’t faded. “We got to see a lot of horrible things but that never really bothered me but it was to see these men scared, tired, frightened - and sometimes they would just grab onto you and you could see the gratitude in their eyes that they were being evacuated...you just never forget that,” Tutrani said.
Tutrani said Take Me Home Huey has had a profound effect on him.
"Seeing the aircraft for the first time just overwhelmed me, just being able to touch it...in addition to being a symbol of hope, it has another medevac mission which is ironic in and of itself. The fact that it's helping veterans out in the field, pulling them on board but maybe even the ones we didn't pull on board. It's a gateway for veterans to let them know they are home and they can start letting go and that's what it did for me,” Tutrani said.
Take Me Home Huey has already sparked a conversation for veterans nationwide, including Karl Renz who did three tours in Vietnam before volunteering his time to help out with the project. “I’m one of the guys that was virtually ready to commit suicide when I started this and going to the VA didn’t help…this healed me. So this is a healing a project for all PTSD of all wars,” he said.
Lives may have been lost, but the spirit of Huey helicopter #174 lives on. “174 has a spirit, and we call it the spirit of 174 - if we can convince people who have feelings about this to talk about it and seek help then 174 will continue its mission,” Adams said.