In the Shadow of the Blade is an award-winning independent documentary produced by Arrowhead Films of Austin, Texas. The film follows the cross-country journey of a restored Vietnam War UH-1 Huey helicopter to capture the stories of people affected by the war three decades after its end.
As an experienced aerial cinematographer, Director Patrick Fries knew that a special connection existed between Vietnam veterans and the iconic UH-1 “Huey” helicopter. His vision to fly a restored Huey across America and give veterans one more chance to fly in the machine that once carried them in war became the emotion-packed documentary In the Shadow of the Blade.
Landing in backyards and farmyards across eight states, “Huey 091” became a catalyst for healing and reconciliation as soldiers and citizens came to pay tribute to a generation of veterans who had served, fought, and sometimes died in a controversial war. Every flight carried war veterans and families in the hold with Vietnam helicopter pilots in the left seat. From its liftoff in Fort Rucker, Alabama, where Huey pilots trained before going to war, to its final landing zone in Angel Fire, New Mexico, where the first Vietnam War memorial was built, In the Shadow of the Blade brought people together with a machine of war on a journey of peace.
Before the mission pulled pitch, Creative Director Cheryl Fries conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with Vietnam veterans, then used what she’d learned to create a blueprint for the documentary which emphasized diversity of experience, accuracy, and the importance of paying honor and tribute to those who had served and died in the war. With the help of producer Mita Gosdin, she worked with volunteer Landing Zone Coordinators across the route to guide the film crew as it made its cross-country mission.
Four Vietnam War veterans volunteered as participants on the crew. Vietnam helicopter pilot Gary Roush, historian for the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, served as the film’s historian, verifying the service records and stories shared in the documentary. Vietnam helicopter pilot Bob Baird, a commercial airline pilot, coordinated filming logistics. Vietnam helicopter pilot Mike Venable, also a commercial airline pilot, assisted as a safety coordinator. Vietnam helicopter crew chief Bill McDonald served as a veteran chaplain counselor. Though not Vietnam veterans, Bruce LeMoine, an Army reservist, helicopter flight instructor and commercial airline pilot, served as the mission Aircraft Commander, and Jim Palmersheim, an Army veteran and commercial airline pilot, helped raise funds. Commercial helicopter pilot Ray Asgar flew the companion cinematography Jet Ranger.
Though the film mission received help from corporate sponsors, much of the mission’s support came from veterans, families and citizens along the way, who donated lodging and food for the crew, fuel for the aircraft, and bought t-shirts that veteran wives Rose Baird and Cindy Venable carried to each landing zone. As the filming mission traveled across the country, this grassroots support contributed to a growing sense of community for all who participated in seeing the film to completion.
In the Shadow of the Blade premiered at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library on Veterans Day weekend in 2003, before an audience of 1,100 people who had come from all over the nation for the event. It was acquired by Discovery Communications and nationally broadcast on the Military Channel, and won Best of Show and Gold Documentary at the 2004 WorldFest Film Festival. It received a Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, and was described by the Library of Congress Veterans Forum as delivering “a gold standard for accuracy, insuring that the real experience, as opposed to the Hollywood cliche, is documented for posterity.” Because of her In the Shadow of the Blade mission of healing and reconciliation, the Smithsonian Museum of American History chose Huey 091 to represent the Vietnam War in its permanent exhibit “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.” From the helicopter’s hold, a monitor shares excerpts from the film, including an interview with General Hal Moore describing the importance of the Huey to his cavalry operations in Vietnam.