For nearly 60 years, helicopters have played an increasingly important role in American combat operations. Vertical takeoff and landing and the ability to hover gave helicopters a distinct advantage in the difficult terrains of Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), a program of the American Folklife Center, spotlights stories of skill and heroism in a new web presentation titled “Helicopters: The Multi-Mission Aircraft,” accessible at www.loc.gov/vets/.
The presentation illustrates how helicopter crews have served their country with inventiveness as well as distinction, whether to deliver troops or firepower, rescue downed pilots, evacuate seriously wounded soldiers, or scout potential fields of battle.
“This presentation spotlights helicopter crews, but reveals larger themes of creativity and courage during wartime,” said VHP Director Bob Patrick. “We hope people will read these stories and be inspired to contribute their own unique narratives—or interview a veteran for the Veterans History Project.”
Among the 16 veterans profiled in the presentation is Vance Funkhouser, whose ingenuity saved lives and earned him a Bronze Star during his service in the Air Force during the Korean War—the first time helicopters were used to transport the injured to M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units. There was a need for the critically wounded to receive blood plasma in transit, and because the litters that carried patients were strapped outside the body of the aircraft, Funkhouser created a device that attached plasma bags to the litters, which provided injured GIs valuable in-flight treatment.
The new online presentation also showcases the experience of Galen DeGraff, who began military service as a pilot in the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company (nicknamed the Robin Hoods) in Vietnam just before the Tet Offensive. DeGraff said of his experience with the Vietcong, “When they tried to kill us, they were more interested in disabling the helicopters than killing the pilots. … They never understood that it took a lot longer to make a helicopter pilot than a helicopter.”
Laura Jane Strickland Richardson is among the women who blazed a path in military aviation history. Richardson began her career by entering flight school at a time when women were not yet allowed to fly attack aircraft, and she later served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as commander of an assault helicopter battalion. After initial combat operations wrapped up, Richardson worked with local officials and citizens in the northern Iraq town of Mosul, supporting reconstruction and security.
The Veterans History Project was created in 2000 by Congress to record the first-hand remembrances of American service personnel in major conflicts beginning with World War I, and it actively collects veterans’ personal accounts of the Global War on Terror. To date, approximately 60,000 individual stories comprise the collection.