Ricky Geronis hadn’t seen Army helicopter gunship 19-A for 43 years, but it only took a few minutes for the emotions to come surging back.
Geronis earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in Vietnam flying the Bell UH-1H “Huey” that now rests outside the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History at Fort Missoula. Although he hasn’t been at the controls of an aircraft since his Army service, Geronis was pleased to find the seat still fit fine. He learned the helicopter was in Missoula while doing some Internet research and decided to come get reacquainted.
“It might come back to me pretty quick,” the Burien, Wash., resident said Tuesday as he gripped the collective control bar. “I’d be pretty rusty though.”
The memories were plentiful of the months of 1969 when he was based in Ban Me Thuot, in the central highlands of Vietnam during one of the toughest years of the war. Geronis was steered into helicopter training soon after he was drafted, and found himself promoted to aircraft commander a few months after reaching the battle zone.
“It had a carcass like an old jalopy, but it had pretty good power,” Geronis said of 19-A. “You could do some things with this one that others couldn’t.”
Like one time when he was picking up soldiers in a mountainous crater with little room to maneuver. The soldiers had just broken off a fight with North Vietnamese combat troops and were desperate to leave. Geronis hovered backward to the edge of the jungle, and then powered the helicopter forward toward a V-shaped gap in the trees.
“The body of the helicopter just got through the slot and the rotors were going over the treetops,” he said. “The lights were blinking and there was the warning tone in my ear that we were losing RPM. We just fit.”
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