A Painted Vietnam Helicopter Is Providing PTSD Therapy for Veterans
Steve Maloney turned a "Huey" helicopter into a traveling art installation aiding veterans.
Take Me Home Huey, Steve Maloney. All photos courtesy of the artist.
Throughout the nearly 20 years of the Vietnam War, the conflict was informally known as “The Helicopter War” due to the widespread importance of the aircraft in both combat situations and daring rescue missions. The Bell UH-1 Iroquois, or “Huey," was a particularly pivotal model used in the war, and it has recently gained a newfound importance in artist Steve Maloney’s traveling art installation Take Me Home Huey.
By painting and restoring the remains of a shot-down Huey that served as an air ambulance throughout the Vietnam War, Maloney has created a vibrant, 47' long sculpture that aims to “bring attention to veterans of all conflicts, as well as to PTSD and the 50th Anniversary [of the Vietnam War] Commemoration,” according to the installation’s press release. To spread this message, the sculpture is traveling across the United States, most recently touching down in St. Louis earlier this month.
The renovated helicopter features graffiti-esque scrawlings of the nicknames of helicopter squadrons that served in Vietnam, as well as patriotic iconography like the American flag, a smoldering slice of apple pie, and glitzy muscle cars. Inside of Huey Helicopter #174 are suspended remains of helicopter parts, relics of the war’s brutal nature. Also in the helicopter cabin is a time capsule set to be opened on April 30, 2025, the 50th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, containing “soldiers' photos, things they carried, and letters they sent home,” according to the artist.
Maloney, who himself is a Vietnam War Era Veteran, collaborated with veteran support organizations to tackle this ambitious project. “I connected with Light Horse Legacy while working on another helicopter project of mine called Ride-em-Copter. I found out they restore military helicopters for healing, and I asked if they could find a boneyard Huey for me. They did, and they made it look like it could fly and delivered it to me to transform into an art installation,” Maloney tells The Creators Project.
Although at first glance, it may seem strange that a restored helicopter from the Vietnam War could help veterans suffering from PTSD, the artist reveals that it actually functions as a potent therapeutic tool for the victims, citing encounters he has experienced throughout the project’s US tour. “We are helping veterans express themselves by making them feel they are recognized and appreciated. One veteran told me if it was not for this project, ‘he would have swallowed a bullet by now,' saying he slept with a loaded pistol for a long time,” Maloney reveals.
“I can vividly recall one female veteran from a more recent conflict, who told me she was from a military family and, evidently, felt comfortable enough to tell me about her brother and father who committed suicide, because they did not seek help. She told me she did not want to end up like them, and just the fact that she felt comfortable telling me about it made me realize how important it is to listen.”