Huey helicopter pilot still flying soldiers decades later

Veterans Voices

“It’s a wonderful thing as a veteran to know you’ve shared experiences with other people and you’re able to still share them with people through flight,” Retired Lt. Col. Tom Agness said with a smile.

Agness fell in love with flying while in the ROTC program at Purdue in the 1960s.

“I graduated, got my diploma, got my fixed wings and the Army sent me to rotor wing school to fly helicopters,” he said.

Tom Agness at Purdue

After serving as a basic training commander, Agness was called up to Vietnam. There for a year, he flew Huey helicopters.

“First I was assigned to the 1st-9th Air Cavalry, known as the ‘Buffalo Soldiers.’ After six months they stood down and went home. I still had six months to go and the unit that moved in was the 135th Assault Helicopter Company,” Agness said. “The EMUs, the Experimental Military Unit, was half Austrialian and half American. I was blessed to fly with two great units. They were totally different missions. With the 1st-9th, we were ariel reconnaissance unit. We went out and hunted bad guys every day and that was our mission. I was the platoon leader who rescued them when they got shot down. I had an infantry on board my ten Hueys so I could fly down and go in and pick them up.”

It was hours of boredom puncuated by stark terror.

That’s the way it was.

Lt. Col. tom agness
Tom Agness in Vietnam

Agness contracted Japanese Type B Enchephalites and was medivaced home. Ater recovering, he came to Concordia High School in Fort Wayne as the ROTC instructor until 1979. He didn’t fly much anymore but, that changed 12 years ago when he learned about American Huey 369 out of Grissom Air Reserve Base in Peru.

“They let me get in and I grabbed the controls and the other pilot said ‘When was the last time you flew?’ I said. July. Ten years ago in July,” Agness chuckled.

Now Agness is one of about 20 pilots who fly the group’s four Hueys at various veteran and school events across the country.

“The other pilot and I will look at each other and say, ‘Can you believe this?’ It’s such a gift to be able to do it. Once you fly, any pilot knows it’s in your blood,” Agness said.

What’s a passon for Agness is healing for the veterans who are on board.

“We have veterans who maybe their last ride in a Huey was when they were being medivaced out of the jungle or a combat area in Vietnam and they have memories that are not so good. We do a lot of flights for veterans and spouses and families. A lot of children who said, ‘Oh, this is what Dad did in the war,'” Agness said. “It’s very carthartic for all involved.”

American Huey 369 is currently raising money to build a Huey museum at Grissom. It will be the only museum in the country dedicated to the Huey aircraft.

They hope to break ground next year. Agness said they’ve raised about half of the $3 million needed.

You can learn more about the museum and how to donate HERE.

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