They make the sound that still tears at my soul. They bring me the promise of peace and they Pavlovianly ready me for violence. It’s the same sound — the sound of a chopper.
In my generation, it was the distinctive clop-clop-clop of a Bell UH-1 Iroquois — the famed Huey. But there are other helicopters that bring the same feelings to generations of warriors.
They delivered us to evil and often took us to heaven. They could bring hell to our enemies and bring heaven to our hurt.
The men who flew them were — by and large — not much older than we were. They risked their lives as we did, and in some cases went far beyond that. We were all in combat together.
We loved them for what they did for us.
It’s hard for me to hate the sound of helicopters. I can tell the difference between types. I know which one carries a millionaire, which one carries a pararescueman, which one is a Blackhawk in training and which one is spraying for mosquitoes.
And I still love the sound of helicopters.
The first helicopter I flew in was an H-13 look-alike — straight out of MASH, it probably flew in Korea for all I knew. Then there was the Hughes Cayuse, “the Loach” — a little egg-shaped two-seater that could carry four, if you were small. I’ve been transported by Chinooks — the monsters with the twin syncro blades. And, of course, there was the godsend: the Bell Cobra. Thirty-six-inches of death and destruction that often hovered above us and fired a five-meter circle around us just so we could get away. God, they were beautiful. And the sound their weapons made? Dulcet — for us, anyway.
Then there were the weird ones: the Skycrane, the HH43 Huskie, the Sikorsky H-34, Jolly Green Giants, Sea Stallions and others.
Today, those “birds” have mostly been replaced by the Blackhawks, Apaches, Dolphins and a bewildering variety of “civilian” helicopters, but to me, well, a chopper’s still a chopper no matter the configuration. And military choppers and their crews are still doing what they always did. The Yin and the Yang.
I’ve gone into combat on them and been rescued from incredibly dire situations by brave pilots, crew chiefs and door gunners on far too many occasions. I’ve crashed in them and walked away.
You all may not want helicopters to “ruin” your summer weekends, but me? Land them on my roof. Any day, any time, any season.
All I’ll do is smile and give the pilot a thumbs up.
There is nothing — for me — like that displacement of air that makes a helicopter a “chopper.”
And I’m still here — because of them and their crews — to thank God for it every day.
I’ll take a chopper low overhead rather than listen to one more day of the less-than-melodious whining of either fork’s ubiquitously cacophonous leaf blowers.
Gary Joyce is a freelance writer and editor from Aquebogue.