Vietnam helicopter pilots memorial closer to reality at Arlington National Cemetery
By MEG JONES | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 15, 2017
Efforts to install a memorial dedicated to Vietnam helicopter pilots at Arlington National Cemetery have moved closer to reality.
Vietnam veterans met last month with the new executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries who proposed placing a small granite monument next to a tree dedicated in honor of Vietnam helicopter pilots killed in what's often called the "Helicopter War."
The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association has tried to get a small monument for a few years but was rebuffed by cemetery officials because of concerns that other groups would want to install memorials and because the dwindling open space at Arlington should be used only for graves, said Bob Hesselbein, a Middleton veteran who is a past president of the Vietnam Helicopters Pilots Association.
But the new director is much more receptive of the group's efforts to honor their fallen buddies. More than 4,700 helicopter pilots and crew members were killed in Vietnam, about 8% of all casualties from the war.
"The location will be ideal. We felt this was an appropriate thing to do," Hesselbein said.
The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association has paid for the design of a marker featuring the etching of a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter and the logos of all military branches along with the words "In honored memory of the helicopter pilots and crew members who gave the full measure of devotion to their nation in the Vietnam War."
The group has raised enough money to create the memorial, ship it to Virginia, install it and provide a stipend for upkeep.
The memorial will be 32 inches wide and 27.5 inches tall. The exact cost to build and install the memorial is not yet known, Hesselbein said.
"It's a humble amount that we, of course, will pay to donate. The cost is less important to us than the value of recognizing our lost comrades," said Hesselbein, who flew Cobra attack helicopters in Vietnam in 1972.
The next step is for the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to approve the memorial design. Hesselbein said he's hopeful the monument will be ready by the end of the year and dedicated in 2018.