Vietnam vets visit Wisconsin man restoring helicopters
The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
CHETEK, Wis. - Three Vietnam war veterans came to a rural Chetek, Wis., residence Monday to see a Huey helicopter that not only carried them safely on many dangerous missions but created a bonding environment that will never be forgotten.
"I'm 22 years old, man; it's goose bumps," Steve Bookout, a former pilot, said when asked what seeing the copter again means to him. "This particular helicopter, well, we got into a couple of nasty fights. It brought me back, even though we were shot at. It means something to me, something inside, mentally."
Bookout, 64, of Newton, Iowa, provided plenty of stories Monday about the 1964 Huey, as did former crew chiefs Ed Trammell and Eric Anspaugh.
The trio was part of a Razorbacks unit, one of the platoons of the Army's 120th Aviation Company, designated, in part, to defend Saigon from the Viet Cong and insurgents, said Ken Eward, who is restoring two Hueys on his Chetek area property and organized Monday's gathering.
"I've always been kind of an aviation nut," said Eward, who has no military experience and got the two Hueys from his father, Conrad Eward of Texas. "We are both very interested in aviation, but me more in military history. I want to restore them as best I can. It's going to take some time."
Eward's research put him in contact with Bookout and others with ties to the Hueys and their valuable contribution to the Vietnam effort.
"These men have so many accounts to contribute," Eward said.
"I never thought I'd see her again," Trammell, 62, of Indianapolis, said Monday when eyeing the 948. "I flew a lot of missions on all the birds, and I remember flying on the 948 a lot of times. I was just surprised to see it was back in the states.
"Looking back at the copter and the guys, it was a time in my life that I will never forget," he added. "The things we did over there and experiences I had was on helicopters like the 948."
Trammell joined the Army to get into aviation. He turned 19 in Vietnam and served as a gunner and crew chief for helicopters.
"I never thought Vietnam was a helicopter war, but it was," he said, recalling night missions and other times of stepping out of the copter during flight to unjam a gun during combat. "Seeing the 948 again brings back a lot of memories."
Anspaugh, 62, of Pleasant Lake, Ind., said the 948 helicopter missions "created a bond that nobody else has. She's a good old girl. I'm glad to see she's still around. She carried us through quite a few things.
"The helicopters were our lifeline in Vietnam," he added. "We were extremely dependent on them. They took us through a lot and always brought us back."
Anspaugh even extended his tour six months because of the camaraderie, saying: "We needed each other."
Bookout presented Anspaugh with a painted helicopter door, complete with the Razorbacks emblem.
Bookout gave accounts of killing 11 people and taking prisoners on a mission, and then a day later meeting with one of the prisoners and giving him food.
"We recognized we were on opposite sides, but we had no grudge against the other person," he said, adding he and others had a bounty on them for killing a commanding officer's son.
"We were in some nasty 'shoot-em-ups,' but we survived to talk about it," Bookout said, glancing at Trammell and Anspaugh. "These guys were like my little brothers, actually closer to me than my two brothers and two sisters. Something happened over there; something that binds us forever, and seeing this Huey brings it all back again."