Combat helicopter veterans reunite in Mobile

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — They consider their reunions therapy.

“We all have post-traumatic stress—and we talk about war. So ironic, isn’t it…” Jim Pfister was a private and a door gunner on a UH-1 Huey helicopter during the Vietnam War. He was assigned to the group with the call sign ‘Rattler’ and ‘Firebird’–members of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company.

Pfister said, “So I went to the 71st November ’67 I started flying—and January ’68 they shot us down.”

He would survive with a broken back–a prisoner of war (POW) for the next 5 years and 2 months. His crew chief and pilot were also captured.

“Three of our guys paid a very high price for a very long time for their service to the country,” said Jim Collins, a helicopter pilot and member of the Rattler Firebird Association. “Now the guys that originated this reunion of our people could not possibly have known the therapeutic value that it was of our people to get together.”

With many souvenirs of their war years along with a Huey mini-gunship replica in tow, the Rattler-Firebird reunion takes place every two years–except for last year, because of COVID-19. Now it’s been three years since they were last together. Their reunions have taken place in many cities across the country, including Las Vegas, New Orleans, St. Louis, and now Mobile.

“We’ve cycled it around the country to make it more available for more people and have a little entertainment on the side as well,” said Collins.

“He comes and he sees his friends,” said Sheila Richardson. She was here with her husband Gerald, also a Huey pilot during the war.

“As a person that didn’t go to war, you don’t realize what they really had to avoid to come home safe,” said Richardson.

What makes this reunion even more special for the members is they know not all of them did come home safe–getting together keeps those who were lost, alive.

“We were asked to go to Vietnam you know to support the government–help them fight, which we did,” said Jim Pfister. “The only thing I can say about that is I’m really sorry we lost 58 thousand Americans. All gave some and some gave all—and that’s the hard part.”

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