PERU, Ind.-- A Hoosier veteran and his family's nonprofit called American Huey 369 are working to open a National American Huey Museum.
It would be the first of its kind in the country and it plans to open in Peru. The Huey helicopter first began airlifting wounded soldiers during the Vietnam War.
John Walker, his wife and brother co-founded the nonprofit. Fourteen years ago, they bought their first Huey helicopter without plans of running an organization or building a museum. It cost them $40,000 on Ebay and it was in no condition to fly. With help from volunteers, they were able to make it fly again more than 40 years after its service in the Vietnam War. It cost $1 million to restore.
More people found out about their project and two more helicopters were donated to them. Now, they have 12 helicopters mostly thanks to donors. Walker said he realized several years ago no one was preserving these historic aircraft.
"We've been creating awareness for the last seven years to build a national museum. One of a kind. One that will preserve all of this history of the Huey, our veterans and the people who built them," he said.
They're protecting history that's personal to some Vietnam veterans, like Dan Herrel. He is a four-time Purple Heart recipient who believes these helicopters helped save his life.
"Their importance was even more than us guys fighting on the ground because we could not have fought without them," said Herrel. "Probably would have been a lot more casualties then there were without them."
At the moment, some helicopters are staying at a temporary museum in Peru. They plan to build the National American Huey Museum on the other side of Highway 31 on a 33-acre property. Walker said it will cost $4 million to build, and they've already raised $1 million. Some of the helicopters will be on static display and some will fly at the museum.
American Huey 369 began a "founder" program which allows a donor to have their name on a bronze plaque if they donate at least $1,000. It will be on display in the main entrance of the museum. Right now, the nonprofit has 16,000 members. Walker proudly said they do not have any loans and the members own the helicopters.
American Huey 369 has hosted 190 events and Walker said each one is crucial for them to raise money for the museum. He believes if half a dozen were cancelled, they would not have been able to restore a Huey helicopter than can now fly again. Weather has not cancelled a single one.
"The museum matters and it will make a difference and it will be a great addition to Indiana," said Walker.
If you are interested in donating to help build this museum, click here to go to the organization's website.