These simple bridges over Matanuska River may become Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Memorial bridges - Must Read Alaska
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Tuesday, September 28, 2021
HomeThe 907These simple bridges over Matanuska River may become Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Memorial bridges

These simple bridges over Matanuska River may become Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Memorial bridges

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Two bridges, one going north, one south, are currently named Bridges 1124 and 1889 in the Alaska Department of Transportation listing of state bridges.

House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Laddie Shaw, would rename the them the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Memorial Bridges.

Shaw said Tuesday on the House floor that 2,002 pilots and 2,704 crew members were killed, and 5,086 helicopters were destroyed in the many dangerous helicopter missions during the Vietnam War.

For Shaw, it’s a personal story. He served two tours in Vietnam. He is a certified helicopter pilot and associate member of the Vietnam Veterans Helicopter Pilot Association, which has 85 members left in Alaska. Their numbers reduce by the year.

“Our helicopter pilots were well-trained, well-versed and of the highest character. But no training existed that could prepare them for what they would actually be doing. And what they were doing was putting themselves in danger in service of their fellows,” he said, as he described a photo of himself at age 22, Sept. 20, 1970, a day when his team evacuated fighters.

“On that day, because of the bravery and skill of the pilot in that photo and the others who helped in that evacuation operation, three of my teammates survived who would certainly have perished otherwise,” Shaw said. Two did not survive.

Reps. Ken McCarty of District 13 and House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton spoke with emotion about the sacrifices of the helicopter pilots from the Vietnam War, some of whom they know or have known as friends.

“This bridge is in my district and the great thing about the placement of this bridge is not only would it show show honor, but it is situated in a place where you can look at Gold Star Peak, which honors those who lost their families in service…” Tilton said, her voice breaking. “The bridges are also located near Reflections Lake, where we hope to put a Gold Star Peak Memorial Park so those who cannot make it to the top at Gold Star Peak have a place to honor their family members.”

Rep. Ben Carpenter, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said, “For those who have never served in combat it’s hard to understand what helicopter pilots, what frame of mind they would have to have. What is the context in which they served? Hard for even me, having served multiple tours in our most recent wars.”

He reminded his fellow legislators that although their weekend was long and laborious, with members trying and failing to pass an operating budget for the state, it paled in comparison to the days experienced by warrior helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War, never knowing if each day would be their last. “It’s that context that matters when we see the name on the bridge sign.”

The vote to rename the bridges passed, with only Rep. David Eastman and Rep. Chris Kurka voting against it. The two were being consistent because they had also earlier this session voted against the naming of the irene Webber Bridge in Cordova. The bill, HB 34, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • I 100% support this. My father, LTC Paul E. Lent Ret. served 3 tours as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and was also a member of the Vietnam Veteran Helicopter Pitol’s Association, when he passed away in 2016 outside San Antonion, TX. I had no idea of just how brave a man he was until AFTER he passed away, like many of his peers. They just “did it” with no fuss or muss and this tribute will be seen by many of active and prior service members each and every day. Thank you!

  • It’s hard for me to read stories like this, myself a Combat Veteran of today’s Wars. Each Brother and Sister not known by me but each story I know all to well. Each I will shed a tear knowing that I will not let their memory go from my heart as I Stand on Watch.

  • Many, many lives saved during the Vietnam war by US and ARVN helicopter pilots and crewmen, my brother being one of them after the chopper he and his 6-man Ranger team was shot down. He was the only survivor, after falling or jumping 90 feet into a rice paddy. They were being “inserted” into the DMZ in the north ( I Corp ). He was with P company 75th Rangers.

  • It’s hard for me to read stories like this, myself a combat veteran of today’s wars. Each brother and sister not known by me but each story I know all too well. Each I will shed a tear knowing that I will not let their memory go from my heart as I Stand on Watch.

  • Yes, let’s rename the bridges. Perhaps we can all take pause to reflect upon the sacrifices of those that came before us as we gaze at that golden starred peak in the sky. Strength and honor my brothers. Thank you.

  • I’m all for a hard earned, well deserved memorial of any sort.

  • I agree with the name.

  • It never fails. We crewchiefs and door gunners get treated as if we weren’t there!

  • So will we be able to cross these bridges needing only one license plate? Where are we at with HB 166, which would make Alaska a one plate state, like 20 other states?

  • Chester Milton…welcome to the club. I flew on 343 combat sorties in Bosnia and Afghanistan as a C-130 loadmaster. I’m pretty sure we won’t ever get a bridge named after us either. But I’m alright with that. I served my country and did my duty.

  • Laddie is a class act. About three weeks ago, he and his lovely wife showed up at our house to respond in person to a letter our 10 year old son wrote to him. We had a good conversation with a very nice couple. We need more people like Laddie in Juneau. Thanks Laddie for your service to our country and thanks for your continued service to our state. God Bless you and your family.

  • Great idea but lets include entire crew in the accolade. This is for Chet Simmons one of the best helicopter pilots in Vietnam. Chet actually started out on the gun.

  • To Laddie Shaw, Harborguy has a good point.
    .
    Figure out how to honor pilots and their crews.
    .
    That’ll be a job well done.

  • Chopper crew and medics were held in the highest admiration by my infantry platoon members in Vietnam–naming these bridges to honor the flyers is very appropriate. A possibly more inclusive name than just pilots (and shorter) might be to name them after the nicknames we gave to choppers–Huey, Dust Off, Snake, Skyhook etc. Lots of good ideas in the other suggestions, but going with Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Memorial Bridges beats haggling over this forever.

  • I had the honor of helping Repatriate 2 sets of remains from Laos in 2004. After our Ak Air Guard C-130 landed in Savanaket Laos, an Army Col came aboard and asked if the crew could stand for the fallen Vietnam Helicopter Crew (Remains) in an acceptance ceremony. Of course we were all honored, maintainers and crew members alike. I never found out who they were or where they were from but I’d like to think all those who flew missions and those who were lost in that war would be honored by your proposal Mr Shaw.

  • Erik,

    Single license plate, I find your post interesting in as I have been in a number of the 20 States you make reference to.

    Many former Alaskan in the States that I have been in that have a single license plate will mount a old Alaskan plate on the front of the vehicle.

    They in some cases either get the mount installed for the plate on the front of the car or will have the dealer put it on when they buy a new car. Many cars sold in the one license state will not have the front plate mount installed when sold.

    So some in AK will relish the single license plate I assume but in many one plate states you can find the former Alaskans.

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