Ed Jones says he's alive because of a Huey helicopter.
The fifth and final time his own helicopter was shot down over Vietnam on Jan. 26, 1969, he was six hours by land from the nearest medical facility. A Huey airlifted him in an hour, although he still nearly bled to death from an arterial wound in his left leg.
"I couldn't see or talk, and I heard them pronounce me dead," he recalled 45 years later. "I heard two male voices arguing about whether to pump more blood into me."
Jones -- who lives in Austin and served 38 years in the military, retiring in 2004 as a chief warrant officer grade five -- was one of maybe a dozen area Vietnam veterans, mostly helicopter pilots, who came to the Bullock Texas State History Museum last week to put together a Vietnam-era Huey that had arrived disassembled in four truckloads. The chopper will be the centerpiece of a special exhibit on 1968 opening at the museum June 7 and running through Sept. 1.
Jay Erickson, an exhibit technician from the Minnesota Historical Society, said the Huey's serial number -- 66-01008 -- establishes that it was used in Vietnam between 1969 and 1972. The workhorse aircraft in America's first helicopter war was used in combat missions, medical evacuations, supply runs and the like.
Even though it was still being put together, it already looked very much like a Huey, albeit one that might also have been involved in a raid on the prop department of "Mad Men." Modernist furniture, period advertising and historical photos tell the month-to-month story of a tumultuous year in American and world history, one that saw the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Prague Spring, the violence-marred Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Olympic Games in Mexico City and the opening of "Hair" on Broadway. The year ended with the Apollo 8 mission orbiting the moon.
But Vietnam and its costs loom over the era in much the way the Huey dominates its room at the Bullock museum. And the veterans there came to remember, commiserate and make sure that the history they lived through and made is not forgotten. Jones wants to bring his family, including his daughter, who was 2 weeks old when he was sent to Southeast Asia. The first time he laid eyes on her was in the hospital, where he recuperated for a year.
"This brings back a lot of good memories, some not so good," said Jones, 69. "Every guy in here has a million stories. If this helicopter could talk it would have a million stories."
"It's a beautiful aircraft," said Benny Aleman, who retired as a command sergeant major and flew about 874 hours in Vietnam. "The Huey was a workhorse. It was put together well. It could take a shot and just keep on going, could take a bullet hole to the rotor wing, tape it up and fly off again, absolutely. And it was so easy to fly, so forgiving."
For Jones, the aircraft is a symbol of history he carries with him every day, from his post-traumatic stress disorder he says was finally diagnosed after 40 years to the limp in his left leg, which for the past 45 years has been 1 1/2 inches shorter than the right.
"I got shot down about once a month," he said. "I got shot down my first day, first hour. I said, 'This is going to be a long year.' "
"The 1968 Exhibit"
Where: Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave.
When: Exhibit runs in the museum's Herzstein special exhibit hall June 7 through Sept. 1. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and military, $8 for children 4-17 and free for 3 and younger. Active members of the military and their families get in free from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Also: A companion exhibit, "When Austin Got Weird," featuring the poster art of Jim Franklin, Michael Priest and other artists from the archives of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the Austin History Center, opens July 11.
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