On Warriors’ Wings: Army Vietnam War Helicopters and the Native American They Were Named to Honor is the culmination of eight years of research, interviews, and study of the engineering evolution of rotary-wing aircraft, the Army’s experimentation with them beginning in the 1920s, and the eventual growth of their numbers Army-wide. So pervasive was the helicopter in the Second Indochina War that besides being called the Vietnam War, it is frequently referred to as America’s Helicopter War wherein 11,827 unique tail number U.S. helicopters were flown in-country during the war.
In the 1950s, the Army began honoring great Native American tribes and prominent warrior chiefs by naming each helicopter after one of them. During his tenure as Director of Army Aviation (1956-1958), Major General Hamilton H. Howze began the practice when he decided that the H-13, fielded in 1948, would bear the name Sioux. He envisioned the helicopter, specifically the H-13, as a fast, mobile, stealthy machine on the battlefield using terrain and vegetation to an advantage similar to the warrior tribes. Eleven Native American-named helicopters saw combat in Vietnam. This volume faithfully traces the operational requirements for each and its advancement through the development and fielding process. It further captures the many diverse missions each and their crews performed during the in-county lifetime of that particular fleet of helicopters. Those accounts encapsulate the many one-year tours of duty of Army aviators and crew members. The descriptions help the reader appreciate why when in 2013, a blue ribbon panel assembled by Popular Mechanics magazine to compile a list of 101 weapons that, in their belief, changed the world, they included the Iroquois UH-1C gunship at Number 50 and the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter at Number 83. Both are Vietnam War veterans and were instrumental to the waging of America’s Helicopter War. Their placement on the list is significant to the contemporary and future war-fighting impact and potential of rotary-wing aircraft.
Important to each of these eleven aircraft is the distinguished history and heritage of the tribe or chief, the honored namesake of the helicopter. Native Americans have fought alongside settlers, colonists, and Americans since before the American Revolution, almost always in percentages larger than their proportion of the population, a tradition that continues today. While not always on the side of the settlers and colonists, their demonstrated warrior skills, determination, devotion to family, tribe, home, and ethos engendered an abiding respect among their fellow combatants and adversaries. The heritage and contributions of the nine tribes and two tribal chiefs honored by these aircraft are recounted in each story.
Six Native American Vietnam veterans who piloted and crewed the aircraft of that war graciously share the narratives of their wartime experiences and combat aboard the helicopters that bore the names of their ancestors. Their first-person accounts add a measure of realism to the words on the printed page by our knowing that these were moments lived and sometimes feared by selfless fellow citizens.
The Vietnam War claimed the futures of 58,279 Americans whose names are eternally enshrined in half-inch letters on the black granite from Bangalore, India, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Of that number are included those of 236 Native Americans representative of all the nation’s armed services. The names of nineteen warriors who perished in aerial operations are included in that latter number. All these brave souls are commemorated in On Warriors’ Wings, and the last flight of the latter warriors is recounted from official records, eyewitness statements, and remembrances from fellow aviation brethren.