News & Events
January 27, 2006
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There has always
been a strong bond between man and machine, and none is stronger than
that forged in the heat of battle. Those who have been there maintain a
special place in the heart for the machines that have carried warriors
into combat and returned them safely home. That bond is often very
tenuous, however, and none more so than those from the Vietnam War.
In the structure of
Army Aviation, helicopters were not assigned to pilots as they often are
in the other services. The Army way in many units was to assign these
aircraft to the enlisted men who flew in and maintained them – they were
only “loaned” to the pilots for assigned missions. These crew chiefs and
flight engineers “owned” that aircraft, and treated it like it was their
first love. But at the end of their tour in Vietnam, the bond was
broken, and they likely never saw the aircraft again.
But every so often,
the planets align, the fates intervene, and a reunion mysteriously
occurs. A special moment like this is occurred on Tuesday, January 3rd,
A Bell UH-1H “Huey” helicopter, serial number 70-15707, that was
acquired by The National Vietnam War Museum is undergoing restoration at
the airport. Through a news story in the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots
Association (VHPA) newsletter, members of the unit that the Huey had
been assigned to read of the aircraft’s existence. Through various
contacts, that information was eventually passed along to Mark Hostetler
of Indianapolis, IN. Mark, it seems, was the crew chief of that
particular aircraft in Vietnam during the last half of 1972. Until
hearing of the museum having the aircraft, Mark assumed it had met the
same fate as many similar helicopters of that period, resting at the
bottom of the South China Sea.
Mark arrived at DFW
airport on the morning of January 3rd, and Jeannie Leonard, a board of
directors’ member from The National Vietnam War Museum, met him and
escorted him to Mineral Wells for the reunion with the aircraft. An
additional surprise for Mark was the presence of one of the unit’s
former commanding officers from Vietnam, Jack Shields, who presented The
National Vietnam War Museum with the unit’s guidon flag from the period
when it was known as H Troop, 16th Cavalry. While Jack had
transferred command of the unit in October of 1971 to Major Coleman J.
McDevitt, well before Mark arrived, there were still members who had
served under him, and Mark was familiar with his name. Having served in
the same unit provided a sense of continuity and brotherhood not found
in most professions.
During the drawdown
of U. S.
forces in Vietnam, company-sized units were often moved around like
pieces on a chess board, and renamed as well during the move. Thus it
was that B Troop, 1/9 Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, in July
1971 became H Troop, 16th Cavalry. Unfortunately, this
designation was not approved by the Department of the Army, who carried
the unit as Troop F, 9th Cavalry in the official records.
However, in Vietnam, the unit was known as H Troop until January 1972,
when it was renamed Troop F
and command was
ultimately transferred to Major George P. Hewlett in May of 1972.
Also during this period, the unit was transferred from the 1st
Cavalry Division to the 12th Aviation Group, 1st
Aviation Brigade. Because of situations like this, many of the personal
histories from this period contain conflicting information about the
identities of the same unit.
enlisted in the United States Army in 1971 to become a helicopter
mechanic; a young man with flying experience, but no high school
diploma, looking to learn a useful trade. His background took him
through aviation mechanics’ school, into the non-commissioned officers
training program, and eventually to a helicopter unit in Vietnam in
mid-1972, when U. S. forces were pulling out at an ever increasing rate.
F Troop, 9th Cavalry, operated in what was known as Military
Region III, the area surrounding Saigon, and extending from the South
China Sea to the Cambodian border. Late in the war, the unit supported
both U. S. and South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) forces, and faced increased
threats from anti-aircraft fire that included SA-7 “Strela”
surface-to-air missiles, ZSU-23, 23mm self-propelled anti-aircraft guns,
and even Soviet S-60 57mm towed anti-aircraft guns that had not been
used in the South earlier in the war.
Both the unit and
the aircraft, 70-15707, were involved in one of the last major U. S.
efforts in the war, the “Easter Offensive” of 1972, when the North
Vietnamese Army (NVA) launched a massive offensive throughout South
Vietnam from the DMZ to the Gulf of Thailand. The pivotal battle
occurred in the northern portion of Military Region III, when NVA
forces, supported by armor and artillery, rolled out of Cambodia and
attempted to drive down Highway 13 to Saigon and subjugate the South.
The ARVN, with air support from the U.S. Army and Air Force,
successfully repelled this attack at An Loc, about 50 miles northwest of
Saigon, and were able to maintain their independence for another three
years. In this operation, U. S. helicopter crews faced some of the most
lethal ground-to-air weapons in the hands of the NVA while providing
close air support and re-supply missions to the ARVN forces. In fact,
this stand by the South Vietnamese Army, combined with Operation
Linebacker 2, which involved the intense bombing of military targets in
by Air Force B-52s, was instrumental in bringing the government of North
Vietnam back to the Paris Peace table.
While he lived
through many experiences most people hope they never see, and was
decorated for valor, Mark, like most Vietnam veterans considers that he
was only doing his job, and that what he did was nothing special. But
Mark, himself, is a reminder that a large percentage of these young men
who went to war at their country’s bidding, and then were shunned upon
their return, rose above the attitudes of their fellow countrymen.
After leaving the
service, Mark not only finished high school, but graduated from college
and acquired two graduate degrees. In addition, he has worked as a
firefighter, sheriff’s deputy, constable, counselor, and Chaplain. And
yet, he has never lost his love for aviation, or his memories of “his”
helicopter. This reunion was something he never expected, but would not
have missed for the world, knowing that his helicopter will be on
display for years to come, helping to tell the story of his generation
to generations of the future.
Mark Hostetler with UH-1H 70-15707 in Vietnam
1972............................. And in Mineral Wells, Texas in 2006
To be involved with this project, contact
The National Vietnam War Museum,
P. O. Box 146, Mineral Wells, TX 76068,
or online at
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