Jack Roberson was happy to see the Huey helicopter take off Tuesday from the friendly confines of Warren County Memorial Airport.
It was much more peaceful setting than in the Quangtri province of South Vietnam where Roberson served as a helicopter mechanic during the Vietnam War in 1970 and ’71.
“At that time we were engaged in a pretty heavy campaign,” said Roberson, who served in the same hangar as Warren County native Tommy D. Young, who was killed aboard a helicopter in Vietnam in December 1970 and had a bridge dedicated in his honor on Tuesday.
“I didn’t really know Tommy personally, but I knew who he was and I’d see him around. There wasn’t a lot of free time. We worked day and night and were pretty much working unless we were sleeping. We had to keep those helicopters in the air.”
Roberson said their base was located in a valley in the most northern portion of South Vietnam. It would come under fire from rockets and mortar shells at night, launched from the nearby mountains.
“It would really hit home when our pilots and crew members didn’t come back,” said Roberson.
What were the most common helicopter repairs?
“Bullet holes and hydraulic failures,” said Roberson. “Rounds would hit the hydraulic lines, causing them to break.”
The Huey helicopter that made its landing Tuesday at our airport was called the workhorse of the helicopter fleet. “It did pretty much anything,” said Roberson, indicating the 14-seat helicopter was used for troop transport, medical evacuations, supply runs and whatever else was needed.
He said his base had about 24 Huey helicopters, 12 Cobra gunships, and 12 to 15 Loach observation helicopters.
“The Loach helicopters flew in pretty low, about 10 feet over the treetops,” said Roberson. “Their goal was to draw enemy fire. Once that was done, the guy in the left seat would drop a smoke grenade in that area. Once the smoke grenade was dropped a Cobra gunship would come in. That was the way warfare was at that time. For people in the Loaches, your chances of getting shot were very high.”
Helicopter rides were offered Tuesday before the bridge dedication ceremony in a Huey helicopter that flew in Vietnam. Randall Pendergraph said it was a thrill to enjoy the experience with grandchildren Cole and Madison Pendergraph.
“I respect our military, each and every one of them, for putting their lives on the line so we can go about our everyday lives,” said Randall. “That flight was amazing. It was a rush. There was a lot of air flow going through the helicopter.”
Added Madison, who enjoyed her first time flying, “The best part was when it tilted to the side and did a little nose dive. The cars on the ground were just little specks.”