ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — As the last of the 140 black engraved panels snapped into place Wednesday, the true cost of the Vietnam War came alive in St. Paul.
Spread out for over a football field’s length on the south lawn of the State Capitol was the traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial.
For the next four days, the aptly-named Wall that Heals will be on 24-hour display. It is making a Minnesota stop through Sunday where the names of the fallen Vietnam veterans can be pencil rubbed onto paper, or honored in quiet reflection.
“It is the icon of the Vietnam War,” said Vietnam veteran Jerry Kaiser.
He is referring to another display parked not far from the massive wall. There, perched atop a trailer, is a mechanical monument of sorts: a UH-1A, “Huey” helicopter.
During the decade-long war, some 12,000 Hueys were flown across Vietnam. Some 5,000 of them were eventually shot down or destroyed, killing roughly 5,000 air crew and troops.
Fifty years after Jim Ottman flew choppers in Vietnam, he was back in one Wednesday.
Though shot at and shot up, his job was to always get troops in and out of battles safely.
“We got called to a mission and maybe the aircraft ahead was shot down,” he said. “Even though I was the air commander, I’d ask my crew, should we go do it? There was never a doubt.”
“I was a helicopter door gunner to start with,” Kaiser added.
Kaiser was a Huey crew chief, responsible for the ship and for operating a 7.62 mm machine gun mounted at the rear of each side door.
He says the display of the old helicopter helps Vietnam vets open up about their experiences.
“We brought them their mail, ammo and food, they loved us,” he said. “They hated us bringing them out there, but they loved to see us come back.”
Some 58,318 names are currently etched into the granite panels of the Wall that Heals. For Vietnam Navy veteran Bill Baker, visiting it is deeply personal.
“Out of two aircraft we lost, one that was shot down, that pilot’s name is on the wall,” he said. “Lt. Patrick Buckley.”
Credit the Huey crews like Ottman and Kaiser for doing their parts, for bravely flying many missions, sparing further casualties and names on the wall.
“We were there to help the guys out,” Ottman said.
For more information about the Wall that Heals and St. Paul ceremonies, click here.