LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - They bravely served in the sky during the Vietnam War as helicopter pilots. This July 4 holiday week more than 1,000 of the proud Americans are in the River City. Every year, in cities across the United States the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association holds a reunion. This year, the event in Louisville is the group's 31st get together.
The pilots have a brotherhood and some pretty amazing stories to share.
Inside the Galt House Hotel there was a warm welcome for those who flew their same year in Vietnam. It's a proper welcome, one many didn't get after serving their country. Vietnam helicopter pilot Joseph Holland who flew in 1964 and 1965 said, "The military did a great job, but we didn't get the pleasure of returning home and being received like we should have been."
But a love of flying brought back plenty of memories. From transporting troops and supplies to getting those who were hurt the help they needed to flying gunships, it's a small club of understanding. Even those who have a hard time talking to family and friends about the war don't have the issue at the reunion. Reunion Committee Chair and pilot Mike Law explained, "Fear, terror, joy - all those things are abstract ideas, so you can actually leverage the fact that we we're common."
The first night of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Reunion more than 150 of those attending are first timers. Louisville's central location is helping record new highs for this group. "Usually we have 35 or 40 new people," said VHPA President Moon Mullen, "but Louisville was a great spot for people to jump in the car and drive rather than fly."
Others like Russell Janus who flew a UH-1 Huey are reunion vets. He hasn't missed a year, but is still getting some amazing firsts. "At this reunion, I ran into one of my classmates I hadn't seen in 44 years," he said.
Paul Uster a Vietnam pilot who began his service in 1968 is still flying for the Army as a civilian contractor pilot at Yuma Proving Ground and cherishes his good memories. "The good part of it was when they pulled me up out of the trees after we got shot down in the jungle," he recalled. A good memory now, because at the time he was scared he wouldn't make it out alive.
The pilots have been getting a great tour of the city. Wednesday, they visited Churchill Downs. If you would like to thank them in person for their service, head down to the Louisville Waterfront July 4 at 4 p.m. sharp for a helicopter rescue re-enactment. You'll see how they rescued a downed soldier during combat in Vietnam. The Vietnam traveling memorial wall will also be on display.
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