St Lucie County Sheriff's Department Chief Pilot Lt Mark Schimpf flew 1,000 combat hours and was shot down eight times during his one year tour of duty in Vietnam.
That was before his days as a law enforcement pilot.
With Schimpf's record, some might think he would never want to be close to another Seawolf helicopter again.
Tuesday, he was on top of one, helping assemble the war bird at the UDT-SEAL Museum on North Hutchinson Island. The UH-1B helicopter, made by Bell Helicopter, was called the workhorse of HA(L)-3, Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron Three, which was commissioned in 1967.
The US Navy established Operation Gamewarden in 1965 to enforce curfews, block Viet Cong infiltration, protect water traffic and counter enemy movement and supply efforts. The Navy also recognized the necessity of rapid air support for the river boats that cruised the narrow canals and rivers of the Mekong Delta. It was from that need that HA(L)-3 was commissioned in 1967 and adopted the call sign and nickname Seawolf for the helicopters.
One of the Seawolves is now a part of the permanent collection at the museum, moved in on a truck with a crane and welded to a base to house the chopper in front of the museum. The Seawolf was donated and the museum paid $4500 to have it restored. "It's wonderful," said H.T. Aldhizer, the executive director of the museum, about the helicopter finally being moved. "It's been a long haul," he said. The project took 14 months from the time museum directors heard about the availability of the helicopter to placing it at it's permanent home.
The helicopter was completely restored and has the painted tail numbers 312, in memory of an actual Seawolf shot down in Vietnam. The downed helicopter was written about by Jim Watson, a founding member of the Navy SEALS and a past curator of the museum, in his book, "Point Man." Watson tells the story of Seawolf 312 that was part of Detachment Six out of Song Ong Doc. It's pilot, Lt William Pederson, and a crewman, Jose Ramos, died when the chopper went down while escorting an Army Medevac helicopter.
Trent Teague, director of operations for the museum, is too young to have served in Vietnam, but he was a SEAL from 1979 to 1985 and spent lots of time in a wet submersible, or SEAL delivery vehicle. He said he was impressed with the Seawolf helicopter.
"This is really great for us," he said "this really gives us a broader scope of what went on over there. This display is very fitting for the SEALs who were in Vietnam."
Memories of tragedies like what actually happened to Seawolf 312 sometimes haunt pilots, Schimpf said, but not him. "I tend to bury bad memories," he said. "I have good memories. I love what I do."
Schimpf is a member of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, an orgnization that reunites pilots about every two years. It's from that orgnization, Schimpf said, that his memories were converted to pleasant ones.
Schimpf is the technical advisor for the helicopter project and put up the mast and set the main rotor. "It's been an honor to be a part of all this,"he sid, "I think St Lucie County should be proud to have this here."
The final stages of the helicopter's move were not without worries, Schimpf said. "I was worried about the placement of the transmission and the actual fitting," he said. "You never know about that until you do it, but it fits perfectly."
After the moveable parts were added, Schimpf stood back and watched as the helicopter was carefully lifted onto the base by a crane. "That's the last time that bird will fly."