Hueys and my Vietnam War book

Mary took this photo of me Aug. 4 in front of a UH-1 Huey helicopter at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum in Rio Grande, N.J.

Mary took this photo of me Aug. 4 in front of a UH-1 Huey helicopter at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum in Rio Grande, N.J.

In 1998 when I was working on the story about my cousin Nicky’s death in Vietnam, I arranged to see a Huey helicopter up close at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station near Philadelphia. That was the kind of aircraft Nicky learned to fly in the spring of 1969 at Fort Rucker, Ala., but which he didn’t live long enough to fly in a combat zone. At Willow Grove, I was escorted to the tarmac where the Huey was parked. I put my hands on the sleek body, felt the smooth metal, examined the interior and took many pictures.

This June 9, my book Tragedy at Chu Lai was published by McFarland & Co., 21 years after I started the writing and research. My wife, Mary, and I followed that milestone this month with a three-day vacation to Cape May, N.J., on the last day touring the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. Among the more than two dozen aircraft on display in a World War II hangar were two Hueys, one of which had been flown in Vietnam. We took photos of ourselves posing in front of the iconic symbols of the war.

It seemed fitting that up-close encounters with the Bell UH-1 Iroquois had opened and closed the work on my book about Nicky. A 20-year-old pilot, he was undergoing Americal Division orientation at Chu Lai in July 1969, hoping to be assigned to the 176th Assault Helicopter Company. But he and his friend Billy Vachon and another soldier, Tim Williams, were cut down when an Army instructor teaching grenade safety unwittingly tossed a live grenade into their midst.

I invite you to join me at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum in Allentown, where I’ll be talking about the story and my long search for the details of how this deadly training accident happened. It will be a Q&A format, with my editor Ardith Hilliard asking questions. Copies of Tragedy at Chu Lai will be available for purchase, and I’ll be signing them. The book is available online at http://amzn.to/2bSNVe0 and from the publisher at http://bit.ly/1SLp0Ia. Visit my website at http://www.tragedyatchulai.com. For more about the Huey, go to the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center website at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/trail/Huey/.

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