Punta Gorda City Council closes door on relocation of Vietnam-era helicopter to veterans’ memorial


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

The Vietnam era medical evacuation helicopter stands in front of the Punta Gorda Military Heritage Museum.

Its owner and several veterans want to move it to the Vietnamese wall in Southwest Florida. The Punta Gorda city council made the decision last September not to allow the Huey to be part of the memorial.

The chairman of the Vietnam Memorial and the owner of the Huey spoke at the board meeting on Wednesday. They asked them to reconsider their decision, saying they had addressed all of the council’s concerns. However, in a 3-2 vote, the council decided not to allow further discussion of moving the helicopter to the memorial.

Council member Jaha Cummings said the council did not have all the information it needed to make a fair decision on whether or not to allow the helicopter to be moved to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. He said the decisions were based on ignorance. Others at the meeting took this personally.

Moments later, the council voted to allow no further discussion of the helicopter on the agenda. The vote was a disappointment for retired Air Force Major General Dick Carr, who helped plan the memorial.

“If you were here, on the field especially, but like me, if I was ever punching and I was in the jungle, I would welcome a Huey damn well. And these guys, many of them, were taken back to Hueys and lived. A lot of them, of course, didn’t,” Carr said.

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

The Huey’s owner said his current home at the Military Heritage Museum was only meant to be a temporary stop before he landed at the memorial.

“By bringing Vietnam vets together, sharing an experience with the Huey, we had people who came and embraced the Huey because of how important it was to them. We’ve had people pat it down and say, “This machine saved my life.” It’s a way for them to express those feelings and maybe move towards healing,” said Huey owner Gus Hawkins.

The executive director of the museum where he is now is unsure where he will end up, but says it is an important reminder of the history lived and experienced by many in our country.

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

The helicopter owner said he was now looking for the best home for the Huey, saying it should be respected and displayed with dignity.

General Carr said Wednesday’s decision would not prevent him from continuing his work to expand and add to the park’s memorials.

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