Vets celebrate opening of ‘Huey Helicopter’ exhibit in Rockford

Kids got a chance to engage in history they won't learn in textbooks
Published: Apr. 29, 2023 at 10:10 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - One Veterans’ organization gives April 29 a new meaning in Winnebago County.

Operation Huey Day has two purposes. First, to expose children to real history they won’t learn in textbooks and second, to raise money for Operation Fallen Flags by selling Huey trading cards.

“The county board made this a proclamation. This is Huey Day. April 29 will be known as Huey Day,” Nick Parnello, Operation Fallen Flags founder said.

Parnello says the goal of Huey Day is to show children real Vietnam War history.

“The guys flying these things were 20, 21 years old, so had a lot of young pilots,” Parnello said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the pilots died trying to save lives.”

Kids get to sit in the Huey Helicopter located at Rockford’s LZ Peace Memorial near Midway Village. One Huey Day attendee Jenny Redington says her dad was a Huey Helicopter door gunner in the Vietnam War.

“I love to see that they’re trying to honor instead of disrespect Vietnam Veterans,” Redington said. “He told us stories when he came home he was spit on and he wouldn’t talk about it because of that.”

Parnello’s grandson, Paul Nolley, is a supporter of Operation Fallen Flags and believes this is a great way to educate the community.

“Anytime there’s anything that’s honoring the veterans,” Nolley said. “That is discussing the history, what they did, the impact it had on our country, I try to be there, share the history with our family.”

Nolley brought along his three-year-old daughter to participate in the festivities and learn more about the history of Huey.

“She was really excited to actually go inside a full-sized helicopter,” Nolley said. “Obviously, this was one actually in the field, in the service, so something really unique.”

Parnello says the Huey Helicopter helped carry medical supplies and was used as gun ships but most importantly, helped save lives.

Records show over 7,000 Huey Helicopters served in the Vietnam War and over 2,000 pilots died.