Punta Gorda City Council closes door on relocating Vietnam-era helicopter to veteran’s memorial

Published: April 6, 2022 9:44 PM EDT
Updated: April 6, 2022 10:07 PM EDT

The future of a Huey helicopter that means a lot to Charlotte County veterans is unclear after the Punta Gorda City Council voted not to allow further discussions about relocation.

The Vietnam-era medivac helicopter stands tall outside the Military Heritage Museum in Punta Gorda.

Its owner and several veterans want to move it to the Vietnam Wall of Southwest Florida. The Punta Gorda City council made a decision last September to not allow the Huey to be a part of the memorial.

The president of the Vietnam memorial and the owner of the Huey spoke at the council meeting on Wednesday. They asked them to reconsider, saying they’ve addressed all the council’s concerns. However, in a 3-2 vote, the council decided not to allow any more discussions about relocating the helicopter to the memorial.

Councilmember Jaha Cummings said the council did not have all the information they needed to make a fair decision on whether or not to allow the helicopter to be relocated to the Vietnam memorial wall. He said the decisions were based on ignorance. Others at the meeting took that personally.

Moments later, the council voted not to allow any more discussions about the helicopter on the agenda. The vote came as a disappointment to retired Air Force Major General Dick Carr, who helped plan the memorial.

“If you were there, on the ground especially, but like me, if I ever punched out and was in the jungle, I’d damn well welcome a Huey. And these guys, a lot of them, were brought back out in Hueys and lived. An awful lot of them, of course, didn’t,” said Carr.

Concerns over liability to the city were brought up as an argument against relocation. General Carr said he would gladly pay for liability insurance.

The owner of the Huey said its current home at the Military Heritage Museum was only supposed to be a temporary stop before it landed at the memorial.

“Getting Vietnam veterans together, sharing an experience with the Huey, we’ve had people come up and hug the Huey because of its importance to them. We’ve had people pat it and say, ‘this machine saved my life.’ It’s a vehicle for them to express those feelings and perhaps, move toward healing,” said Gus Hawkins, the Huey’s owner.

The executive director of the museum where it now sits doesn’t know where it will end up but says it’s an important reminder of the history many in our country lived and experienced.

“Wherever it goes, it should be in a place that enables people to see it, learn about it, understand it, especially today’s young people. You know, we got to remember, Vietnam War was 50+ years ago,” said Gary Butler, executive director of the Military Heritage Museum.

The helicopter’s owner said he is now looking for the best home for the Huey, saying it needs to be respected and displayed with dignity.

General Carr said Wednesday’s decision would not stop him from continuing his work of expanding and adding to the memorials at the park.