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April2009
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“Get To The Choppa!”

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 over other aircraft in the difficult terrains of Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

A U.S. Army helicopter in flight. Leland Heywood Burgess Jr. Collection, Veterans History Project U.S. helicopters arriving to airlift Vietnamese government Rangers of the 43rd battalion into battle against Viet Cong guerrillas, Saigon. 1965

The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), a program of the American Folklife Center, spotlights stories of skill and heroism in "Helicopters: The Multi-Mission Aircraft.” 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.

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 MASH (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 Viet Cong, "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.

“Helicopters: The Multi-Mission Aircraft” is part of VHP’s ongoing “Experiencing War” series, which chronicles Americans in conflict using firsthand accounts and narratives.

Commissioned by Congress to collect and preserve the recollections of Americans who served during wartime, the VHP relies on volunteers to interview veterans and submit their recollections, along with letters, photographs, memoirs and other documents, to the Library of Congress to be archived and shared with future generations.


A. A U.S. Army helicopter in flight. Leland Heywood Burgess Jr. Collection, Veterans History Project. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.

B. U.S. helicopters arriving to airlift Vietnamese government Rangers of the 43rd battalion into battle against Viet Cong guerrillas, Saigon. 1965. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-122601 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: NYWTS - SUBJ/GEOG--Vietnam--South--Army--Rangers <item> [P&P]