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Flying museum brings Vietnam veterans back in time

Published: Oct. 3, 2021 at 11:22 AM EDT
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SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The whirring blades of a UH-1 Huey helicopter are heard often in the movies, but for veterans of the Vietnam War, the sound can bring them back to places they may not want to go.

Pat Fox, executive director of Active Heroes, wants to change that. He supports military members and their families deal with the mental and physical struggles of returning from conflict.

On Saturday, he enlisted the help of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, who flew one of their Army helicopters from Atlanta to Shepherdsville to give veterans a flight back in time.

Veteran Army Pilot Lee Stuart said riding in the helicopter helps families understand what veterans experienced.

“It’s a living museum,” Stuart said. “You can get the seat of the pants feel. You get to feel a little bit of what it was like in Vietnam.”

Stuart would know. He was drafted at the age of 19 and served as a U.S. Army pathfinder, organizing helicopter landings in combat zones. He said these flights make him feel 19 years old again.

“Any time we go, someone is going to have a significant emotional event,” Stuart said. “You got these old Vietnam vets. Some don’t want to fly. They want to go up and touch or sit in the place they sat.”

The flights were a fundraiser for Active Heroes, funding their retreat space on the outskirts of Shepherdsville. In the safe space of the retreat, Fox said he hopes the flight could bring closure to some veterans.

Another of the helicopter pilots, Fred Edwards, said those feelings can be intense; bringing up memories lost over the years.

“It brings them out when they were wounded, bringing them out when they were under fire, taking them in,” Edwards said. “The sound of that aircraft means something to them that doesn’t mean [something] to most other Americans.”

One veteran in attendance, who didn’t want to be named, said he flew in helicopters as a medic for many years.

He was happy to view the Huey from a distance, but when asked about a ride, he said, “No way. I have too many bad memories in there.”

Fox was ready for thoughts like this. Active Heroes provided therapists and other support for anyone who might have been overwhelmed. Fox said that flights like this are important for families of veterans to help understand.

“It helps,” Fox said. “I think people understand that. This is what they do, this is what they’re doing. They don’t have to do it, but they want to.”

If you or a loved one is a veteran struggling with mental health, Fox asks that you reach out to Active Heroes by clicking or tapping here.

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