As a way to make my table at a small book fair stand out, I put my helo helmet on the table. I have not worn it since Desert Shield and Storm and that was in 1991, twenty-six years ago. A couple of passers-by asked me about it. Thankfully, no one thought it was a motorcycle or race car driver’s helmet.
It was originally issued to me in July 1969 so at the book fair in October, it was forty-eight years old. Inside, some of the foam padding has started to crumble along with the insulation. The crash resistant Styrofoam and the suspension system are still in good shape as are the dark green and clear visors. I still have the two boom mikes because some versions of the H-2 didn’t have the same radios so depending on the helicopter, one had to change mikes.
Right after I got the helmet, it took awhile to get it adjusted. It was new to me and the Navy! On the first few flights, it gave me a headache so through trial and error, we got it to fit properly. As a helicopter pilot, it was for many years, just another piece of gear one wore when one suited up.
Since I was issued this helmet, it sat on my head while I flew in and around Vietnam, the Philippines. It’s been in three wars and served me well.
It made a trip into Cape Town, South Africa on a mail run as the carrier – U.S.S. America – made its way around the Cape of Good Hope. It’s been to Japan and Korea many times either in a helmet bag or on my head. And, its been to Rio de Janeiro twice, Guantanamo Bay more times than I can count, Puerto Rico, the American and British Virgin Islands along with the Bahamas and most of the countries in the Caribbean to say nothing of visiting ports all over the Mediterranean.
My helmet heard me speaking French to a controller at the airport in Marseilles who decided one morning that he forgot his English. Through the ear pieces, it heard three dialects of English as I landed on Australian, Canadian and British ships. During Desert Storm, it visited all seven of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries along with ships from fourteen countries. And, in my helmet bag, a stop in Diego Garcia out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Its been mentioned in both Pravda the Soviet Union’s propaganda magazine and Isvestia, the Soviet equivalent of the New York Times when I was photographed hovering next to a brand new Soviet ship. One day I’ll write that story and how its distinctive reflective tape design became a discussion point amongst the editors of those publications.
My bone dome, one slang expression for a helmet, has been all over the U.S. – well, not to all fifty states – but I’ve worn it flying helicopters up and down the East Coast, down to Pensacola and even out of San Diego.
For twenty-four years, it was a constant companion and now it sits on a table behind my desk, just observing. It is not a relic. It is an old friend who shared my life in the cockpit.