The naming of a pair bridges in the Matanuska-Susitna Valey was made final on Saturday, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the bill at the America Legion Post 15, with the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Alaska Chapter in attendance.
The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Bridges — two of them — cross the Matanuska River at Mile 30.4 of the Glenn Highway. One is northbound, the other is for southbound traffic.
Rep. Laddie Shaw, who introduced the bill, thanked House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton for suggesting he be the sponsor, even though the bridges are not in his district; she and several legislators were in attendance, including Sen. Josh Revak, Sen. Mia Costello, Sen. Shelley Hughes, Rep. Mike Cronk, Rep. David Nelson, Rep. Ron Gillham, Rep. Kevin McCabe, along with Shaw and Tilton.
During the Vietnam War, 2,002 helicopter pilots and 2,704 crew members were killed in Vietnam, and about 42 percent of the helicopters ended up destroyed — a total of 5,086. Helicopters were getting their first real test in battle during that war, and the pilots were trained, but no training could prepare them for what they actually had to do.
It was an especially poignant event, with the backdrop of the horrific events in Afghanistan weighing on the hearts and minds of those who attended.