‘Huey’ helicopter to soar above Alabama veterans park as permanent display
The Cullman Times January 26, 2023
CULLMAN, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — This spring’s annual commemoration of local military members killed in service will take place beneath an unmissable new addition at Cullman’s Veterans Memorial Park.
Thanks to the combined efforts of local governments, legislators, and the Cullman VFW Post 2214, the park will soon be home to the first new piece of full-scale military memorabilia it’s added in nearly a decade. A Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter — colloquially known as the “Huey” helicopter that sustained U.S. operations through the Vietnam War — is set for an early-spring installation, perching high above its park surroundings near Sportsman Lake in recognition of both local Vietnam veterans as well as veterans from Cullman County who’ve served in any military campaign.
Announcing the planned April installation deadline in a local broadcast last week, Veterans Park Board chair Dr. Michael Schendel said the Huey serves as an apt icon for preserving the memory of local service members who were killed in action in Vietnam.
“I think as most people know, the Huey has been an icon of military endeavors everywhere, in all the services — but especially, we all remember it from the news reels of the Vietnam War,” said Schendel. “It played a huge role transporting troops, medical evacuation ... I think a lot of people can recognize it, and as such, it’ll be a great addition to the park.”
Organizers already have identified three Cullman County natives killed in action in Vietnam — all aboard helicopters — who’ll be recognized as part of the installment’s initial commemorative plaque.
Those include Army Crew Chief and Gunner Neil Wade Jones of West Point, Marine Corps Maj. and pilot Wayne Hyatt of Hanceville, and Army Maj. and pilot Bill Schmale of Cullman, who died on his third combat tour in Vietnam while serving in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. “Given that he had three combat tours, we’re going to put the logo for the 1st Infantry Division on the helicopter to honor him,” noted organizer Ken Brown, himself a Vietnam veteran.
More names may be added to that short list of fallen soldiers, as the Veterans Park Board seeks feedback from the community to learn of other local KIA Vietnam service members who perished in the air.
“We’re seeking names of any other vets from Cullman County who were killed in Vietnam, either as crew members or riding aboard a helicopter, who were lost,” explained Brown. “It’s difficult to look at the names inscribed on monuments and determine how, exactly, they died. We’d like to hear from the families of anyone who may fit that description, and hopefully have them present when we do our dedication ceremony this spring.”
Last year, the Cullman County Commission struck an agreement to acquire and refurbish the donor Huey aircraft for installation at Veterans park, which sits within the larger county-operated grounds of Sportsman Lake Park. While the county will fund the helicopter’s $12,000 new paint job, state tourism funds secured by Alabama Senator Garlan Gudger will be used to reimburse the county for the remaining cost of the display.
The Huey monument is set to be installed in April ahead of its formal unveiling on Saturday, May 27, when the park will host its annual Memorial Day remembrance ceremony.
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