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NEWS | May 16, 2017

2017 Air Show Brings Back Memories for Local Veteran

By Staff Sgt. Debra Richardson 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

PITTSBURGH, Pa.-- Excited brown eyes eagerly search a bright blue sky, seeking the creator of the thunder that shakes the ground and has young children cringing. The Harrier aircraft, known as the Harrier Jump Jet, makes a pass around the airfield, its engines roaring as it begins a quick ascent of 50,000 feet per minute before unexpectedly rolling to the right and then rapidly to the left.

Eighty-year-old Phillip Houdeshell, of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, watched in awe as the aircraft plunged into an exhilarating nosedive and at the last moment, the pilot pulled up and soared back into the clouds.

“Wow,” Houdeshell mouthed, his eyes never leaving the plane, even as his hand began to shake from the weight of his coffee and lounge chair. “Being here, around all this, makes me remember things I haven’t thought about in a long time,” he said, motioning toward the sprawling airfield, overflowing with people, chairs, and static displays.

Houdeshell slowly made his way to the other end of the airfield, seeking out the Army Blackhawk and Apache. “I know they’re not Hueys, but they’re close,” he said, smiling as they came into view. For several minutes he stood afar, watching intently as parents took selfies with their small children and two Army pilots explained the mechanics to interested passersby.

Lost in revery, Houdeshell absentmindedly mentioned the draft in 1962 that led to his enlistment and eventual deployment to Vietnam. An experience he merely summed up as rough. “I came home in July of 1963; I was fortunate,” Houdeshell said. After returning from the war, Houdeshell spent a few years in the Army Reserve.

“I was in a lot of choppers over there, big Hueys, and this air show brings back so many memories, some positive and some negative,” Houdeshell continued. “We lost a lot of people over there but I remember them.”

Houdeshell watched as four C-130 Hercules airplanes began to take off from the runway in relative quiet, carrying airborne soldiers from the West Virginia Army National Guard, 2-19th Special Forces Group. The event announcer explains that the aircraft will take a few minutes to gain altitude before the soldiers can make their highly anticipated jump.

“So many things have changed since Vietnam,” Houdeshell says, motioning toward the C-130s and then bringing his attention back to the Blackhawk. “I like coming to events like these so I can see what’s changing and know these young guys are better off than we were. The Army has come a long way.”

Wings Over Pittsburgh returned after a six-year break as a thank you to the community and to showcase the 911th Airlift Wing’s conversion ot the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

For veterans like Houdeshell, the air show is a place to merge the past and present. Here, among roaring engines, billowing smoke and veterans from all walks of life, the Vietnam War is not in the too distant past and his memories are no longer hazy.