Shot down in Vietnam in 1969; a “Huey” helicopter has found new life in Michigan as the canvas for a project by Kalamazoo native Steve Maloney.
On Tuesday, the Air Zoo in Portage, Michigan, unveiled the “Take Me Home Huey” project. The project shares the stories of those who served in helicopter units during the war in Vietnam. The exhibit remembers the service of the helicopter units and the other 2.7 million people that fought in the war.
“What I was imagining on the tailbone area of the aircraft, was bringing to life maybe some memories that soldiers would’ve had on their minds, thinking about back home rather than the war,” said Maloney. “Maybe their girlfriend, or their car, or mom’s apple pie.”
“It’s really to welcome home those guys that never got a welcome home,” said Maloney. “Those soldiers were spit on. One guy said they threw rocks at us when we got to the airport. We changed out of uniform and then we went home. And we were forgotten.”
To make sure no one is forgotten, he painted every helicopter unit onto the Huey. “It’s a healing project,” said Vietnam veteran Karl Renz III. “I mean it really is. We have a lot of veterans come by and find their units on the wall.”
Renz helped on the project and worked on the restoration of the helicopter. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I was right on the edge of putting a gun…” said Renz, unable to finish the sentence. “I been that way for a while. When I got involved in this, it’s just, I don’t worry about it anymore.”
He believes that the exhibition is prompting people to talk about the war and the effect it had on them. “A lot of them are very emotional,” said Maloney about veterans. “A lot of them are letting some of those feelings out. So it’s a healing helicopter really. And that is its mission.”
The exhibit has been touring the country since last Veteran’s Day. It’s been to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Ford Museum in Michigan. It is on display at the Air Zoo until September. Maloney said they are making a documentary about the exhibit. They are pitching it to networks, hoping it will air soon.
“Everywhere we’ve come, even here, when we pulled downtown there were people that just stopped and got out of their cars,” said Renz. “I mean it is healing, and it does.”