National Archives News

Veteran Pilots Display Vietnam-Era Helicopters at National Archives

By Kerri Lawrence  |  National Archives News

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2018 — Three Vietnam-era helicopters went on display this morning outside the National Archives in Washington, DC. Their pilots are also on hand, offering tours of the aircraft to the public and answering questions about their historic flying machines. The helicopters and their pilots will remain in place until November 16 as part of a week-long celebration honoring veterans. 

The helicopters are provided by the North Carolina Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) in conjunction with the National Archives Foundation and Bell Helicopter. This is the second year the association sent helicopters and pilots to the National Archives in honor of Veterans Day. Last year, their presence helped celebrate the launch of “Remembering Vietnam: 12 Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War,” an exhibit in the National Archives Museum that presents both iconic and recently discovered National Archives records related to 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War. 

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A U.S. Army helicopter is part of an outdoor exhibition for the Veterans Day celebration at the National Archives in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the "Remembering Vietnam" exhibit. (National Archives photo by James Pritchett)

The three helicopters on display—a Bell UH-1M Iroquois, Bell UH-1H Huey Medevac, and Bell OH-58C Kiowa—are all originals flown during the Vietnam War. They are now manned by veterans who volunteered to come to Washington with the aircraft. Each of the pilots said their goal is to educate a new generation on what it was like to fight in the Vietnam War.

Army Veteran Phil Keith, who was a 22-year-old test pilot with the U.S. Army’s 14th Transportation Battalion during his service in Vietnam, said he enjoys sharing his experiences with the younger generation. 

“It’s a large part of our nation’s history and there’s not a lot written for the school kids about the Vietnam War. This is our chance to share our experiences and our knowledge,” Keith said.

Keith talked about his service with many of the visitors who were anxious to sit inside an aircraft and ask questions of a real-life Vietnam veteran. 

“This was our job,” Keith said. “We tried to look after our passengers the best we could in a bad situation. And we did the best we could with the type of equipment we had. You see what these helicopters look like. Everything here is analog—no digital, no TV screens back then.

“After the war, we were not welcomed home very well. Now, we veterans get more recognition for our service, but unfortunately, two-thirds of our members have passed away. We do this for them, too,” he added.

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Army Veteran Phil Keith, who served as a 22-year-old test pilot with the U.S. Army’s 14th Transportation Battalion during his service in Vietnam, shares his experience with National Archives visitors during a display of Vietnam-era helicopters over the Veterans Day weekend in Washington, DC, at the National Archives Building. (National Archives photo by Kerri Lawrence)

The retired pilots withstood the drizzle of a chilly November day in Washington, spending time with adults and children alike who wanted to know more about the aircraft and the war. Visitors listened intently as the veterans shared their knowledge of the helicopters and their experiences flying them in the war.

The pilots are all members of VHPA, a nonprofit war veterans organization with a membership of more than 16,000 helicopter pilots from around the world, who flew in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era (1961–1975). The group said that approximately 40,000 served as helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War. Pilots and other service members, are represented in the “Remembering Vietnam” exhibit.

As a Vietnam veteran himself, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero expressed his pride in how the exhibit tells the story of the Vietnam War, adding “this celebration is an opportunity for the Archives to honor those who have served and to ensure that as many individuals as possible have the opportunity to learn from this important exhibit before it closes.”
“Remembering Vietnam” remains open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through January 6, 2019. The National Archives Foundation also has a virtual tour available. The VHPA pilots and their helicopters will be on display from Friday, November 9, through Friday, November 16, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free for the museum and the helicopter special event. The National Archives Veterans Day Celebration is presented in part by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family and Bell Helicopter.

The National Archives celebration of veterans continues with a program on support and resources available for Vietnam veterans in “Remembering Veterans: A Conversation of What Happens After Duty, Honor, Country” on November 14, 2018. Former Senator and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Congressman Sam Johnson will deliver remarks and will be joined by expert panelists Rick Weidman, Vietnam veteran and Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA); Linda Schwartz, Vietnam veteran and former Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for policy and planning; and Garry Augustine, Vietnam veteran and Washington Executive Director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Reserve a Seat 

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