When Larry Worthy returned from his stint in the Vietnam War as an air scout, he brought a piece of the war back with him – literally.
While attempting to scour the Vietnamese jungle in search of enemy soldiers, Worthy’s helicopter came under fire. The first bullet deflected from his chest and entered his jaw, lodging in his head. He was able to land the helicopter – still fully conscious – and was rushed for treatment.
Some things helped him get medical attention. One was a fellow soldier who fired a gun at an army medic to hurry and help Worthy. And the other was the Hughes OH-6 Loach helicopter he was piloting – and the second Loach that took him to first aid camp – and he credits saving his life.
“I never regret it, not once,” Worthy said. “I got a bullet in the head and I don’t care. I don’t regret it for a second.”
When an OH-6 Loach was offered for purchase, Worthy, a resident of Rawlins County, knew he had to have it, no matter what the cost.
“I want to share it with people because I think what the scout pilots did, not many people know,” said Worthy. “Almost everyone knows the Huey pilots who drop off the troops and pick up the wounded and they don’t realize it’s the scouts flying over there who get shot at, trying to find the enemy.” “
Following:The museum has an increasing number of airplanes. It adds MiG fighter, WWII trainer, WWI replicas.
Many do not know the role of Vietnamese air scout pilots
Worthy, the OH-6 Loach and two other decorated air reconnaissance helicopter pilots were in Topeka on Saturday evening for an event at Forbes Field airport designed to increase interest and understanding of the group of pilots who are less well known than many others. Vietnamese airmen.
Aerial scouts skimmed the top of the jungle, keeping watch over the enemy using any means necessary. Sometimes outside equipment was used, but mostly helicopter teams used their own senses and training to identify Viet-Cong infantrymen for their American counterparts in the field.
“The ability of an aerial scout is to see what God hasn’t put there,” said Hugh Mills, a fellow pilot.
Mills received four Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts and the Legion of Merit for his services. He co-wrote a dissertation on the role of an aerial scout and flew over 2000 hours in the OH-6 in Vietnam.
He then flew similar helicopters for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, but said flying the OH-6 always brought him back to Vietnam – it was the first plane he had on board. been trained in the military.
“I have 8,500 hours on these things, but every time I get on the OH-6, yeah, it brings me back to Vietnam,” Mills said.
The tactic of using a group of pilots devoted solely to finding the enemy is something that was not used before Vietnam and has not been used in the same way since, Worthy said.
“At night we would go in and report what we found to the intelligence guys,” Worthy said. “They would say, ‘You find so much intelligence. More than anyone else in the field. Someone needs to write a book about you guys.'”
Mills and a third pilot, Bruce Huffman, flew in the OH-6 from Worthy earlier in the afternoon, with the helicopter on display alongside other Vietnam War-era planes to l ‘American Flight Museum at the airport.
Following:WWII Vultee BT-13A trainer aircraft arrives at Topeka Combat Air Museum.
Memories of the Vietnam War are still strong today
Huffman said serving in the war was a defining moment in his life, as president of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society, an award he, along with Worthy and Mills, won for their service in the war. The memories were so strong that Huffman said he felt called to come from Arizona to take part in the event.
“What I gained when I was 21 has served me well my entire life,” Huffman said. “Because I feel today that there is no challenge that I could not take on or anything that would leave me intimidated. Because I succeeded.”
The three men stressed the need to improve understanding, especially among younger generations, of the Vietnam War and how and why it happened. For Robert Rice, director of the American Flight Museum, there’s no better way to do this than to bring their stories – and their planes – to Topeka.
“You can read a book about something or maybe watch a movie or a documentary,” Rice said. “But when you can sit and listen to these guys talk and see the helicopter fly, these are the three dimensions that you can’t get out of a book or a movie.”
Andrew Bahl is a Statehouse senior reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 443-979-6100.