QUANTICO, Va. - More than 300 Vietnam veterans visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Nov. 8, 2013 to witness the landing of a UH-34D Helicopter.
The helicopter was created to transport cargo and personnel, but was known to fly rescue missions. It will be part of the new Operation Starlite exhibit slated to open 2016. The Seahorse was donated to the museum by the Marine Helicopter Squadron 361 Veterans Association.
“This donation really answers all of our prayers, because we have been looking for something to represent Operation Starlite and the Vietnam era for two years,” said Ben Kristy, aviation curator, National Museum of the Marine Corps. “This has a lot of history behind it and we are honored and humbled to receive it.”
According to Alan Weiss, president, The Flying Tigers, although the members of the association loved the helicopter they had to find a place to put the old bird down. The Seahorse has flow more than 50 flights and some of them have been to Marine Corps Air Station New Rivers, N.C., Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, and many more. With donations running dry and each hour per flight costing $1,500, it was impractical to keep. So after careful consideration, the members decided the best place for the helicopter would be the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
“We came up with the idea to build it during our reunion in 1998, but we didn’t start rebuilding it until July 2001, so after five years, 41,000 hours of maintenance and $350,000 in donations we finally completed it.” said Weiss as he looked up at the helicopter.
For the members of the association, the helicopter is more than just a vehicle to ride in, but a treasure trove of memories.
“This is the first helicopter that I ever flew and that was in 1966 off the coast of Vietnam,” said Raul Sifunetes, executive director, Marine Corps Aviation Association. “Evidently this is the first and last helicopter that I ever flew,” the last time I flew this helicopter was Aug. 12, 2012, in memory or Alfred A. Cunningham.”
Alfred A. Cunningham was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps that became the first Marine Corps aviator and the first Director of Marine Corps Aviation.
The helicopter landed in the parking lot of the museum at 2 p.m., where it was turned over to the museum, from there the helicopter flew to Larson’s Gym, where it will stay until the Operation Starlite exhibit for the museum is completed.