Ugly Angels: Vietnam veterans share memories at Inola reunion
By MARK FRIEDEL | The Claremore (Okla.) Daily Progress | Published: October 8, 2013
INOLA — Members of the “Ugly Angels” Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron Light (HMM) 362 gathered Saturday for a reunion at Dobies Heliport in Inola. The helicopter pilots, air crews and support personnel served during the Republic of Vietnam conflict, spanning more than seven years from April 1962 until August 1969.
The squadron flew in the UH34 helicopter, the last of its kind to be used in military combat. Tasks included everything from mail pickup to combat missions, rescuing troops who were taking heavy fire or troops who had been injured or killed in action.
“We worked long days, flying routes from 6 a.m. until sometimes 7 p.m.,” said former Crew Chief John Sigman.
Sigman said as crew chief, his job was to load and drop off cases of food, as well as load and “kick off” troops. He was also responsible for any maintenance on the aircraft.
“You could be putting fuel in the helicopters, and all of a sudden you realize the enemy is dumping mortors on the base. Not many know what that experience is like,” he said. “When you talk to people who weren’t there, they get this glazed look on their face and you know they have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The reunion provides a special time for “Ugly Angels” to reminisce about the times they shared and a chance to remember stories they have forgotten.
“Everybody had their own unique time. The pilots, crew chiefs and the gunners had a special bond,” said H34 pilot Ken Davis. “We were one team working together, light on the trail. We trusted each other with our lives.”
During the reunion, the squadron took time to remember the men who took their last breath while fighting alongside the HMM 362. A memorial was on display honoring those who were killed in action.
The Ugly Angels Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organiztion open to any Marine, Navy or civilian personnel who have served with HMM 362 or HMH 362.
“The memorial keeps the names of our 33 men killed in Vietnam alive, as well as maintains the memorial site at the National Museum of Marine Corps in Triangle, Va.,” said Bill McNair, president.
McNair said he was crew chief and one of the last to serve in Vietnam from 1968-69.
Veterans enjoyed a “meet and greet” and hamburger and hot dog lunch before heading through the hangar doors where a UH34 flew over and landed to take select “Ugly Angels” and their family members on a ride above Green Country.
“You never get used to that exhaust smell,” said Davis. “I have flashbacks every time I smell it.”
Davis said he rode on the aircraft last time the reunion was in Tulsa about seven years ago.
“It really is a beautiful machine. Just watching the (the UH34) in flight brings a tear to my eye,” he said.