Every modern war has its icon, the technological development essential to the conflict, the one that changes the course of battle and becomes, ever after, symbolic of the time. The Civil War’s cannon, World War I’s machine gun, World War II’s tank — each left its mark on the landscape and the soldier. Vietnam’s icon was the helicopter, specifically the UH-1 utility helicopter soldiers referred to as “the Huey.”
The geographic and political realities of Vietnam called for a new kind of warfare, one the U.S. Army termed “Airmobile.” Remote battle zones, mountains topped in old-growth hardwood jungles, and poorly developed roads eliminated motor vehicles as a means of quickly moving masses of troops and supplies. Helicopters took over. In Airmobile warfare, flocks of helicopters took troops and supplies to strategic locations, monitored operations from the air, engaged in battle, and evacuated forces. The famed U.S. Army 1st Cavalry joined aviation units already in Vietnam to pioneer Airmobile operations, trading its horses for helicopters and creating an archetype followed by the 101st Airborne, the 1st Aviation Brigade, and several other aviation units and smaller detachments.
Many helicopters were used in Vietnam, but none was as widely employed as the Huey. The UH-1 “Iroquois,” popularly dubbed the Huey, is known as “the workhorse of the Vietnam War,” used by all military forces for troop transport, medical evacuation, and combat assault. Hueys transported soldiers and supplies to the lines as the horses for a modern cavalry. More than 7,000 Huey helicopters served in Vietnam and nearly half were lost. 2,177 Huey crew members were killed in action.
The Huey’s single rotor blade pops the air with a unique WHOP WHOP WHOP, and this sound was ubiquitous in the war zone. Every person who served or lived in Vietnam during the war will tell you that more than any sight or smell, it is that sound that brings the war back in an instant. It was this connection that In the Shadow of the Blade director Patrick Fries knew would be the catalyst for a remarkable documentary. By once again connecting veterans to their icon, he imagined, he could evoke emotions that would unlock their powerful stories. It was a great idea, and it would take a great deal of creativity, tenacity, and determination to make it happen.