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‘Sky warriors’ reunite during anniversary

Pvt. Chase Francis, Pvt. Garrett Taylor and Pvt. Anthony Durrah, A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, speak with veterans from the 13th Combat Aviation Brigade May 17 during a social picnic between veterans and Soldiers from 1-13th. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Pvt. Chase Francis, Pvt. Garrett Taylor and Pvt. Anthony Durrah, A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, speak with veterans from the 13th Combat Aviation Brigade May 17 during a social picnic between veterans and Soldiers from 1-13th. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Published: June 5, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 5, 2014) -- The weekend of May 16-18 brought some legendary sky warriors back home to Fort Rucker for the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Reunion.

The reunion was sponsored by the 13th Combat Aviation Battalion (Vietnam), and hosted by the current 1-13th Aviation Regiment and Fort Rucker.

Members of the 13th Combat Aviation Battalion, and other Vietnam veterans, gathered to reminisce, swap stories and old lies, and remember when they were young and ruled the skies.

Most of the attendees had trained or spent time during their Army careers at “Mother Rucker.”  For some, it was a return to their flying home, for others, a walk down memory lane. The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence rolled out the red carpet for their visit.

The veterans came from California, Arizona, Maine, Michigan and most points in between. The reunion chairman, Larry Castagneto, had lined up a busy schedule, including visits to the Night Vision Device Branch, Helicopter Overwater Survival Training facility, Directorate of Simulations and the Aviation Enlisted Training Institute.

May 16 was the first gathering of the group and included smaller, more personal reunions, with crew members getting together for the first time in more than 40 years. A member of the Navy’s Black Pony OV-10 attack squadron attended the reunion for the first time. The Black Pony, which was also based in the Vietnam Mekong delta, provided dedicated support to the “brown water navy” of gunboats, landing craft and SEAL Teams.

May 17 started with golf at the Dothan National Club, and then was followed by a unit picnic at Yano Hall on Fort Rucker. Current members and Soldiers of the 13th Aviation Regiment helped set things up, and then shared some Sweet Tooth BBQ while they listened to the veterans’ stories.

The favorite event during the picnic was the opportunity to fly in a genuine, authentic Vietnam UH-1 Huey helicopter. The Huey was flown by the Friends of Army Aviation from nearby Ozark and was painted as it was in Vietnam. For many of those in attendance, it was their first time back in a Huey since leaving Vietnam, and for Family members, it gave them a much better perspective of what their veterans did during their time in the service.

The reunion dinner was held May 17 at The Landing. There, the veterans had a dinner date most of them had dreamt about for more than 40 years. Actress Chris Noel came to visit “her boys.” Noel hosted a daily radio show heard around the world on Armed Forces Radio from 1966–71. In Vietnam, it was played in the evening and was called “A Date with Chris Noel.” She took requests through the mail and answered scores of letters from GIs on things as important as the newest dances, the length of mini-skirts, and most important were her trips to visit the troops in the field. She made over a dozen trips in all, visiting smaller locations that were usually bypassed by the larger USO shows.

Chris is still serving the troops today, as she now runs a shelter for homeless Vietnam veterans in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“It’s what I was born to do. I want to serve these men the same way they served their country. I haven’t forgotten their sacrifice,” said Noel.

Col. Robert Doerer, chief of staff for the USAACE, spoke at the dinner. He thanked the men of the 13th for their service and for setting the standards for Army Aviation, which are still being followed today.

“You learned the lessons, many written at the cost of lives, but thousands more lives have been saved with the tactics you developed. We are in awe of what you did in your years of combat,” Doerer said.

The gathering concluded May 18 with a touching memorial ceremony at Veterans Park in front of the U.S. Army Aviation Museum. The service was attended by the veterans and Soldiers of today.

During the event, a memorial wreath was placed by reunion organizers, and Army Aviation Maj. Jay Billington played and sang “Amazing Grace.” Touching remarks were given by Castagneto about the sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in all the wars throughout this nation’s history.

After the ceremony concluded, many of the veterans stayed around to talk and visited with the troops before beginning the journey home. As Castagneto remarked, “They may look old, fat and bald now, but if you had seen these amazing men back then you were looking at the bravest sons of a guns you would ever meet. They were the greatest of their generation.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/127448/

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