WEST OCEAN CITY — The Vietnam-era Huey helicopter memorial on display at the Ocean City Municipal Airport is back in good shape this week after a repair project funded in large part by public contributions, including a behind-the-scenes benefactor.
The decades-old Huey helicopter was mounted for display at the airport in 2011 after the Ocean City Aviation Association (OCAA) was able to secure the relic of a bygone era in military aviation. The OCAA used private funds to acquire the helicopter and worked with the town of Ocean City to secure a permanent home for the historic aircraft at the municipal airport.
The Huey helicopters gained fame during the Vietnam War, and one became available for display after the fleet was retired in 2011. The OCAA jumped at the chance to obtain one for permanent display as part of a memorial at the Ocean City Airport.
The helicopter is 48 feet long including the back rotor blades. It had been stationed in Indiantown Gap, Pa. before being transferred to the Ocean City Public Works Department in July 2011.
During a severe Nor’easter in March, which ravaged the area with high winds, flooding and power outages, the cables supporting the historic helicopter snapped, allowing its massive rotors to spin unsecured. The OCAA reached out to the public for funding to secure the aircraft and modify its mountings so it would hold up against similar storms in the future.
Casino at Ocean Downs owner William Rickman, Jr. answered the call, providing much of the funding needed to repair the short-term damage to the Huey helicopter and help secure it for future generations. Rickman, a decorated Vietnam Huey helicopter pilot, has an emotional attachment to the helicopters made famous during the war.
“We are most grateful for the support and contributions the public provided for the modification,” said OCAA President Tom Oneto this week. “We especially want to thank Mr. William Rickman whose generous support enabled it to be completed without residual debt. He really came through for us when we needed it the most.”
On Wednesday, the Ocean City Fire Department Tower 5 truck arrived at the municipal airport to assist with the repair project. The intent was to weld new eye bolts to the helicopter to allow new stay cables to be installed.
However, the fire department ladder truck could only get the welder near the helicopter because the wet ground surrounding the memorial prevented the truck from getting any closer. OCCA then contacted a private bucket truck operator to help finish the job and get the welder up close to the helicopter.
Rickman earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his extraordinary heroism as the commander of an armed Huey helicopter attached to the 170th Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam in December 1968. When a helicopter carrying troops was struck by enemy fire and forced to land in hostile territory, Rickman led his team of armed helicopters to the site, flying at an extremely low speed through tall trees and dense foliage to locate the troops in danger.
His own helicopter was riddled with enemy fire and he was injured in the leg during the rescue effort. Despite his helicopter being low on fuel and riddle with ammo, Rickman stayed on scene and led the enemy to believe his aircraft was armed despite being severely disabled. He flew his helicopter between two heavily armed enemy ridge lines with only door-mounted machine guns to facilitate the rescue efforts.