Goodbye to an old friend

This is the speech given at Ft Rucker when they retired the last Huey: CW4
Lawrence Castagneto, 17 may 2011

As a Vietnam Veteran Army Aviator, I would like to thank everyone for coming
to this special occasion, on this to be honest…very sad day, the end of a
era. An era that has spanned over 50 years. The retirement of this grand old
lady “OUR MOTHER” … the Huey.

I would like to thank, MG Crutchfield for allowing me to speak at this event
and try to convey in my own inadequate, meager way.. what this aircraft
means to me and so many other Vietnam veterans.


First a few facts:
It was 48 yrs ago this month that the first Huey arrived in Vietnam with
units that were to become part of the 145th and the 13th Combat Aviation
Battalions; both units assigned here at Ft Rucker today. While in Vietnam,
the Huey flew approximately 7,457,000 combat assault sorties; 3,952,000
attack or gunship sorties and 3,548,000 cargo supply sorties. That comes to
over 15 million sorties flown over the paddies and jungles of Nam, not to
include the millions of sorties flown all over the world and other combat
zones since then ….what a amazing journey…. I am honored and humbled to have been a small part of that journey.

To those in the crowd that have had the honor to fly, crew, or ride this
magnificent machine in combat, we are the chosen few, the lucky ones . They understand what this aircraft means, and how hard it is for me to describe my feelings about her as a Vietnam combat pilot…. for she is alive… has a life of her own, and has been a lifelong friend.

How do I break down in a few minutes a 42 year love affair, she is as much a part of me, and to so many others, as the blood that flows through our
veins. Try to imagine all those touched over the years …by the shadow of
her blades.

Other aircraft can fly overhead and some will look up and some may not; or
even recognize what they see but, when a Huey flies over everyone looks up
and everyone knows who she is… young or old all over the world she
connects with all.

To those that rode her into combat… the sound of those blades causes our
heart beat to rise… and breaths to quicken… in anticipation of seeing
that beautiful machine fly overhead and the feeling of comfort she brings.
No other aircraft in the history of aviation evokes the emotional response
the Huey does… combat veteran’s or not… she is recognized all around the
world by young and old, she is the ICON of the Vietnam war, U.S. Army
Aviation, and the U.S. Army. Over 5 decades of service she carried Army
Aviation on her back, from bird dogs and piston powered helicopters with a
secondary support mission, to the force multiplier combat arm that Army
Aviation is today.

Even the young aviators of today, that are mainly Apache pilot’s, Blackhawk
pilot’s, etc., that have had a chance to fly her will tell you there is no
greater feeling, honor, or thrill then to be blessed with the opportunity to
ride her thru the sky… they may love there Apaches and Blackhawks, but
they will say there is no aircraft like flying the Huey ” it is special”.
There are two kinds of helicopter pilots: those that have flown the Huey and
those that wish they could have.

The intense feelings generated for this aircraft are not just from the
flight crews but, also from those who rode in back …into and out of the
“devils caldron”. As paraphrased here from “Gods own lunatics”, Joe
Galloway’s tribute to the Huey and her flight crews and other Infantry
veterans comments:

Is there anyone here today who does not thrill to the sound of those Huey
blades?? That familiar whop-whop-whop is the soundtrack of our war…the
lullaby of our younger days it is burned in to our brains and our hearts. To
those who spent their time in Nam as a grunt, know that noise was always a
great comfort… Even today when I hear it, I stop…catch my breath…and
search the sky for a glimpse of the mighty eagle.

To the pilots and crews of that wonderful machine …we loved you, we loved
that machine.

No matter how bad things were…if we called … you came… down through
the hail of green tracers and other visible signs of a real bad day off to a
bad start. I can still hear the sound of those blades churning the fiery
sky ….To us you seemed beyond brave and fearless… Down you would come to us in the middle of battle in those flimsy thin skin -chariots …into the storm of fire and hell,..

…we feared for you, we were awed by you. We thought of you and that
beautiful bird as “God’s own lunatics”… and wondered …who are these
men and this machine and where do they come from…… Have to be “Gods
Angels”.

So with that I say to her, that beautiful lady sitting out there, from me
and all my lucky brothers, that were given the honor to serve their country,
and the privilege of flying this great lady in skies of Vietnam – Thank you
for the memories…Thank you for always being there…Thank you for always
bringing us home regardless of how beat up and shot up you were…,
Thank You!!!!

You will never be forgotten, we loved you then….. we love you now… and
will love you till our last breath …

And as the sun sets today, if you listen quietly and closely you will hear
that faint wop wop wop of our mother speaking to all her children past and
present who rode her into history in a blaze of glory …she will be saying
to them: I am here… I will always be here with you.
I am at peace and so should you be … and so should you be.

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