High School student Eric Wright didn't hesitate when asked what he thought about the Huey gunship helicopter on display Saturday at Fairview CIC.
"I want one," said Eric, looking at his dad for approval.
Eric likely won't be getting a Huey helicopter anytime soon, but he was one of the many people to get an up-close look at the aircraft which flew in combat for four years during the Vietnam War.
In addition to the helicopter, seven pilots who flew during Vietnam were on hand to answer questions. The seven pilots combined to have 164 years of military service.
"The troops either loved us or they hated us," said Bob Monette, one of the pilots on hand. "They loved us when we were picking them up and they hated us when we were dropping them off. But we always picked them up, no matter how hot or how hostile the territory we'd go in there."
Monette is a member of the North Alabama Chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, which handles the static helicopter display. The helicopter does not fly. Rather it is trucked to different areas, mainly in Alabama and Tennessee.
Monette said perhaps the most dangerous time during a mission was during liftoff in enemy territory. He said that was when the bottom of the helicopter was exposed to fire while moving at slower speeds.
"When we went in, we were landing in the middle of people we were trying to kill," said Monette. "If we didn't kill them, we'd be right there with our belly exposed when we pulled out. And remember these were just people we had tried to kill."
Monette said his helicopter was shot down his third day in Vietnam, which was a common occurrence.
"The first thing we did was immediately set up a perimeter," said Monette. "The problem was I had no idea where we were. We kept trying to send a mayday signal out, but you have to know where you are to get any help."
Monette said one interesting aspect about helicopter pilots in Vietnam is none of them were drafted. He said service was entirely voluntarily because 1 out of every 10 pilots did not return home.
"We knew when we went to flight school what the next step was after that," said Monette. "We were all 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids and we thought we were bullet proof. It was rough but that's what we were trained to do."
The Huey helicopters were by no means bullet proof. The outside only had a layer of tin in many spots and Monette tapped the tin to show just how flimsy it is. There were armored seats to help deflect bullets from people shooting up.
The helicopter chapter frequently visits schools to inform students about Vietnam War history. Monette said they talked to some 3,000 students last year.
"I always ask students to raise their hand if they think the pilot is the most important person and just about everyone will raise their hand," said Monette. "But that's not the right answer. Everyone on board is important. It really is an important team effort. The Army Aviation motto is 'Above the Best.' That's not saying we're the best. It's saying we're above the guys and gals on the ground and the only reason for Army Aviation is to protect them."
The helicopter display was part of Fourth of July festivities at Fairview CIC. Fairview traditionally holds its celebration before all the other Warren County communities.
For a look at Fourth of July schedules submitted to the Standard thus far, see page 7A.