Raydean Patterson was visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly when he happened upon a familiar sight: a “Huey” Army helicopter used during the Vietnam War.
“When we came around to [the Huey], there was this real big plaque. I read it and it said it came from the 118th aviation company,” Patterson told Reston Now. “Then, I said ‘I was in that company’ and I looked at the tail and there it was.”
As it turns out, Patterson believes he flew the exact helicopter that the Smithsonian now has on display when he served in the Army during the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s. The Huey had a combat record from 1966 to 1970, according to the museum display.
“I was there for like six months, so if it was there, I flew it,” Patterson said. “We didn’t change planes too often, unless they’re a heap of a pile of nothing…and this was in pretty good shape.”
The reunion between pilot and helicopter was seemingly a coincidental one. Until Patterson spotted it on this recent trip, he never knew a Huey he likely flew sat in a museum so close to his home.
While originally from Missouri, 85-year-old Patterson and his wife Mickey, who celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary today (Thursday), moved to Fairfax County several years ago to be closer to family, including their grown son.
The couple now lives at Hunters Woods at Trails Edge in Reston.
Patterson served two tours as a pilot during the Vietnam War, lasting a total of about 19 months. During his second tour, he was wounded in the leg. Overall, he was in the Army from 1958 to 1984, moving 34 different times, and attaining the rank of colonel.
Working as an Army aviator during the war was a tough, frightening job.
“Every morning or overnight when I would go out…I had this little diddy I’d say, ‘God, let me get through this one more time,'” Patterson recalled. “Then, coming back, I’d say a bunch of thanks to God…We had a little help from above.”
He had a somewhat surprising reaction to seeing the helicopter where he spent some of the most anxious moments of his life.
“I had a warm feeling for that piece of metal,” he said. “I liked flying it, though I didn’t like those guys shooting at us.”
Patterson did have a slight urge to go back in time a few decades and reconnect with the Huey.
“I wanted to go over there and crank the thing up,” he said. “And go take it for a ride.”
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