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Airplane museum in French Valley throws 70s-style party honoring Vietnam War veterans


Last updated 10/28/2017 at Noon

Judy Rodgers of the Wings and Rotors Air Museum at French Valley Airport helps organize a “Salute to Vietnam!” party, Oct. 21, where guests were encouraged to dress in 1970s era attire. Proceeds from the event benefit the nonprofit museum’s operations. Shane Gibson photo

Guests who visited the Wings & Rotors Air Museum in French Valley Saturday, Oct. 21, were transported back in time to a 1970s-themed party honoring Vietnam War veterans.

The “Salute to Vietnam!” event began about 5 p.m. at the museum, located at 37350 Sky Canyon Drive. It included cocktails, dinner, raffles and music performed by the Temecula-based Phoenix Patriot Band.

Proceeds from the event went to support the museum, which is a nonprofit dedicated to restoring former military aircraft to flying condition with emphasis on aircraft from the Vietnam War.

“Since we’re basically a Vietnam-era museum, we decided to have our first fundraiser be a ‘Nam-era theme,’” Judy Rodgers, who fills a variety of roles for the museum, said. “So we’re paying tribute to our veterans, and we thought it would be fun to come dress in your 70s attire.”

Guests, many wearing 70s-style clothing, stopped to look at some of the aircraft on display.

There was a Bell UH-1B “Huey,” a kind of helicopter that was common during the Vietnam War, and a F4H-1F Phantom, a fighter plane designed for the United States Navy. Rodgers said the museum was hoping to procure the parts to make both of the aircraft operational.

There was another Huey on display, just for show as an art installation. It was painted in mostly camouflage colors, save for an American flag painted on the bottom and tail and brightly colored flowers at the top. Light green and black spray paint overlaid some of the camouflage paint.

Printed atop the camo was a list of companies that had served in Vietnam.

Matthew Casey, 70, of San Jacinto quickly found his company. He said he served in the 129th Assault Helicopter Company for the Army, flying missions from the central highlands to the Vietnamese towns of Qhui Non, An Khe and Pleiku.

Casey said seeing the old aircrafts brought back memories of having to fly back into the jungle at night and do maintenance on his airship. They’d open up the hatches and train two big spotlights on the ship so that crews could do that work, he said.

“In a jungle environment, your shirt’s off and you’re laying on your back trying to do maintenance and these weird bugs are laying all over you,” he said, a bit of a laugh in his voice. “Not to mention we were a BLT. That’s a Big Loud Target.”

Tom Woehl, 73, of Escondido, an Army veteran, also found his company, the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, or the Black Cats, listed on the art installation. He said the installation was an H-model Huey, but he had flown B- and C-model gunships during Vietnam.

In addition to seeing the aircraft and listening to music, guests had the opportunity to participate in raffle drawings.

linklink Some of the raffle prizes available at the event included a Temecula Valley Wine Country Aerial Tour, eight wine tastings from Doffo Wines and an ultimate dinner package that included meals at Shogun Restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar and Yard House.

The party attendees of the Wings and Rotors Air Museum’s “Salute to Vietnam!” gather inside the museum’s hangar at French Valley Airport, Oct. 21.  Shane Gibson photo

Though this event was Wings & Rotors’ first official fundraiser event, the museum has been around for more than a decade.

Shayne Meder, a retired Air Force veteran, said she’s been working at the museum since the beginning, painting and repairing aircraft.

She said that thing that she most enjoyed about the event was the chance to honor Vietnam veterans in particular.

“We honor all veterans, but tonight’s event is specifically for Vietnam vets,” she said. “A lot of them weren’t thanked enough or soon enough.”


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