11/20/01 Special prosecutor sought for sheriff case
Vets rallying to save icon of Vietnam
Across the nation, Vietnam helicopter veterans and others whose lives often
depended on helicopters and their crews have enlisted in a battle to save a
helicopter they call the Five 0 Deuce.
In what many of them believe is a near miracle, one of the pilots who flew the Five 0 Deuce in Vietnam was reunited with his craft. He was looking for a helicopter for the sheriff's department in a Florida county for which he was in charge of the helicopter unit. Bob Carr and the Five 0 Deuce stirred up a windstorm of emotions as he lovingly took it from a hunk of metal on the verge of being scrapped to a slick flying machine that has had a healing effect on many veterans.
They watched his progress on the Internet and waited to see and touch it as it toured the country for a documentary titled "In the Shadow of the Blade."
Suddenly, everything went bad. A new sheriff was elected, Carr was without a job and the Five 0 Deuce was being cannibalized, or stripped of its working parts.
These veterans do not intend to lose another political war, and they are bombarding the Florida sheriff, other agencies, every news source they can think of, congressmen, senators, governors and generals. But this time, they are fighting not with bullets, but with words spawned from deep emotions and memories.
Veteran Ron Leonard of Ransom, W.Va., writes: "It is not just a helicopter. It is a symbol. It is a symbol that each and every one of us has emblazoned in our souls. It is a symbol we all justified as help on the way. It is the sound of the blades we all remember. `The Shadow of The Blade' would have educated untold thousands of the younger generation. To each of us it has a different meaning, as we are diverse, but it is the icon that held us together, the icon we can't forget. It is the meaning of our existence today as it was then."
Veteran Michael Gouch wrote: "The 502 symbolizes the sacrifices made in our most unpopular war. You can go to http://A101Avn.org to read about the heroes who gave all. The 502 is a healing symbol from that time. ... There continues to be casualties from that war. You can't imagine the price still being paid by those who were there. So now this symbol of healing is under attack again, so for those bent on destroying the 502, know that the struggle will be hard and it will be long, and in the end, you will not win."
More information and photos of the Five 0 Deuce flying and cannibalized can be found on the new Internet site at http://clubs.yahoo .com/clubs/savefive0deuce.
PEGGY MISHOE is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at 365-3885
John Clayton At Large:
Former NH chopper pilot maintains his connections
At this time of year, it’s customary for snowbirds to fly south from New Hampshire to Florida to escape the winter weather. Most of them fly back.
Not Bob Carr.
The Dover native made the trip to the Gulf Coast almost 25 years ago and he’s still down there. Unlike most snowbirds, though, he does his own flying. It’s just that he hasn’t got his helicopter pointed up this way yet. And that helicopter? It’s the same one he flew 30 years ago.
He wasn’t in Florida then.
He was in Vietnam.
Back in March of 1970, Bob Carr was a warrant officer with A Company of the 101st Assault Helicopter Battalion. The unit was part of the 101st Airborne — he was with an outfit known as the Comancheros — and one of his birds was a brand new UH-1H helicopter. It was tagged Chopper 502. Some military folks called it a "slick." Most GIs knew it as a "Huey."
"We flew them from pick-up zones to landing zones for combat assaults," said Bob, whose unit was based in Hue just south of the DMZ — the so-called Demilitarized Zone — in South Vietnam "One day, we did supply missions, the next day we did troop-drops. We did anything they needed. Over there, helicopters were the preferred mode of transportation, in or out. Especially out."
He knows about that last part. The Army made sure of that. Helicopter pilots with the 101st Airborne had to spend their first two weeks in Vietnam on the ground with a rifle.
"They’d take you out in a helicopter and dump you in a field," he said. "They wanted you to know what it was like to be an infantryman, to know what it was like for those men down there on the bottom. It gave you a real appreciation for what you were going to be doing."
It also gave him a real appreciation for the reliability of his equipment. As any pilot will attest, there’s an odd bond that develops between man and machine, but when that machine is the only thing keeping you from a prolonged stay in a POW camp — or a flag-draped coffin — the bond is even stronger.
As if to reinforce the point, Bob’s favorite bird was occasionally struck by ground fire — "ventilated" is the term he used — but when it was time for him to come home, Chopper 502 was still flying high.
So was Bob. He signed up as an "air observer" with the 197th Field Artillery Group of the New Hampshire National Guard — "Still proud to be a Minuteman," he noted — which allowed him to continue flying choppers. He even enrolled in East Coast Aero Tech to figure out what made them tick, and the diploma he earned became his ticket to the Sunshine State.
"I got a job in 1975 with the Lee County Mosquito Control Division," he said, (and the simple fact that they need to employ helicopters should give you an indication of the mosquito problems in Lee County, Florida.) "It was a good way for me to keep flying, for one thing, and it was a way to get the mechanical experience I needed, and when a guy crashed one — a small two-seater — I got to rebuild my first helicopter."
It wasn’t long before word about Bob, a 1963 graduate of Exeter High School, began to spread throughout Florida.
"The sheriff in Charlotte County heard about my background and he said, ‘Guess what? I’m going to get a couple helicopters from the military and I want you to help me get them rebuilt.’ I said yes, and in 1978, we started the first aviation program in the sheriff’s office. I became a pilot, a mechanic and a Charlotte County deputy sheriff."
The duties there went well beyond mosquitoes.
"With the sheriff’s department, we use the helicopters for drug interdiction," he said. "Over the years, the federal government had down-sized its customs and DEA presence in Florida, and they said ‘If you locals want to pick up on domestic marijuana eradication . . .’ and we slipped right into it."
Funding for the project wasn’t exactly flush, however, and if he was going to keep his department’s helicopters up in the air, Bob realized he would have to become a scavenger of the highest order.
"Parts is parts," he laughed. "We just put the parts together and away we go. I scan a government web page called DRMO — that’s for the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office — and see what kind of old military property they’re offering."
Prowling the Internet on a daily basis, though, got him to thinking.
"I spent so many years trying to forget about Vietnam," he said, "then one day I decided I wanted to know if there was anyone out there on the Internet who belonged to my unit in Vietnam."
There was, naturally, and from that first electronic contact with his one-time crew chief, things began to snowball. More than 250 guys from his unit are now linked via the Internet. A June reunion is planned for Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Bob came up with an idea for arriving in style.
"I just figured, wouldn’t it be great if I could find my old Huey I flew over there in Vietnam?" he said. "I thought maybe I could fix it up and put it on display."
The likelihood of finding a 1970 vintage helicopter seemed remote, even after the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association came up with a list of the choppers assigned to the Comancheros. Bob persisted though, and when he came across Chopper 502 on a scrap list compiled by the General Services Administration, he made his pitch.
"It was my helicopter," he said. "I had to have it, so I called the GSA and they said, ‘You can’t have it. The helicopter has been assigned to someone else."
His chopper had been assigned to the Charlotte County Mosquito Control unit. Technically, it was already back in his command.
"Of all the places in the world," he said.
Chopper 502 had been assigned to the scrap heap after a 1998 training flight crash at Fort Rucker, Alabama. In December, the carcass was trucked to the sheriff’s hangar at the Charlotte County Airport. In the intervening 60 days, Bob and his friends (volunteer snowbirds included) have been busy patching and repairing and retro-fitting the chopper — at no cost to the state — so it looks the way it did 30 years ago.
And even while he’s putting together the pieces of his old helicopter, he’s busy doing the same thing with the pieces of his life. First it was the acceptance of his service in Vietnam. Then it was re-embracing his Army buddies. Now it is an on-going reconciliation with his children; a son, Daniel Sullivan and a daughter, Cheryl Lepore, who lives in Penacook.
"He’s been really excited about this," said Cheryl. "He’s taken us up in the sheriff’s department helicopter, but never in a Huey. That would be pretty exciting, especially one that he flew in Vietnam."
Make no mistake. Chopper 502 does not belong to Bob Carr. It belongs to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department. Still, Bob hopes he can take it for one last spin — bear in mind that odd bond between man and machine — before it’s permanently assigned to fire-fighting duties with the Florida Division of Forestry.
"I know of a few people who’ve got their old aircraft, but they’re not flying them," he said. "They’re putting them on display at airports or in front of VFW halls, but my ultimate goal? I want to restore it and then I want to fly it to the Comancheros reunion at Fort Campbell this summer. Wouldn’t that be something?"
And wouldn’t it be something if he were to fly it all the way home?
"It would have to be in the summer," he laughed.
"It’s too cold up there."
(Union Leader columnist John Clayton, named "Columnist of the Year" by the Associated Press of New England, is also the host of "New Hampshire Crossroads" on New Hampshire Public Television.)
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