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Uncovering the "Rest of the Story"
By Chris Henry, EAA Museum Programs Coordinator
December 29, 2020 – When the museum receives a new aircraft, artifact, or display, I immediately want to know all that I can about it. I want to hear the hidden backstories. Some of that comes from my own nature, the other because I am also the lead for the docents. It is my job to ensure that the correct story and details are getting out there to the docents, who then share them with visitors to the museum.
When we were first told that our UH-1 Huey had a name associated with it, "The Good Widow Mrs. Jones," I found myself wanting to know the whole story. How did it get that name and artwork, who named it that, why did they name it that, who painted the art, and of course, I wanted to know any stories about our aircraft. Along the way I hit a massive wall of confusion and incorrect information. I then also found photos of the nose art panel on a D model slick Huey. Some photos of the nose art were more censored than other samples. In order to best tell the story we had to put together a timeline. The only way to do this was to talk to the real crew. This was the best information source; after all, they were there.
I first connected with crew member Mike Cousic. He then connected me with one of the pilots, Brian Siplon. Together, they told me stories of our aircraft, the missions it flew, damage it received in combat, and they shared gear with us to add to the exhibit. Thanks to the PIMA Air and Space Museum we actually have Brian's Viking helmet he wore in this aircraft reunited with it once again.
A great surprise was when the 121st Viking Association connected me with the original pilot, Rick Thomas. I had found the first pilot of the Good Widow. Now I could find out more about the origin of the name and artwork.
As I talked with Rick he told me the story that cleared up some of the story.
"I went in to the town of Soc Trang," Rick said. "There was a painter there who had a shop. He is the one who painted all of our nose art and helmets and such. I was looking around and found this great nose panel. It was a girl on a tiger skin rug. She was taken from a centerfold of a Playboy magazine. Above was the name "The Good Widow Mrs. Jones." The pilot who ordered it never came in to pick it up. So I bought it and installed it on my D model Huey."
That story cleared up one question: why the art also appeared on a D model aircraft. But it also launched more questions. How did it end up on our ship? Rick would soon answer that.
"I was on leave when my D model crashed," Rick said. "When I came back I was going to now fly gunships or simply '"guns.'" "I saw that they had saved my nose art and had it hanging in a maintenance shop. So I took it and installed it on my B model gunship 733."
Now the circle was complete. I had found out how it ended up on our aircraft. Just when I thought I had the full details, I received a nice email from Mike Shakocius. The email simply started with, "We didn't crash." Mike and I started a conversation that would shine the light on the story of what happened to the D model Good Widow, and just how brave those helicopter crews were.
On February 6, 1968, during the height of the Tet Offensive, the crew of UH-1D 65-9777 "The Good Widow" came to get their briefing. The crew that day would be made up of two pilots, Warrant Officers Victor Beaver and Mike Shakocius, a crew chief, Specialist Marley Lewis or Don Jackson and a gunner, James Conrad. That morning would find them meeting up with a cargo aircraft, loading up supplies, then flying to several areas in that sector, and would eventually resupply an outpost at Vinh Binh Province, in the Tieu Can District. The outpost was in direct contact with the enemy, and the Huey crew monitored the situation, choosing the best time and way in to attempt an approach. I will let Mike' tell the story.
"We did a spiraling, twisting approach, changing heading often to prevent any possible accurate VC fire," Mike said. "At a lower height above ground we slowed down our descent and did our usual flare to slow down over some rice fields with tree lines on both sides and began the last part of the approach. A short distance before the outpost we had to cross over a small river with a wooden foot bridge crossing it. Surprise! On the wooden foot bridge a Viet Cong flag was flapping in the wind. As soon as we spied this we thought: Oh no! They trapped us! In that very instant, the VC opened fire from both tree lines, the distance between them and us was only about 50 meters. We could feel the rounds hitting the helicopter. We were receiving multiple hits. Thankfully, our crew chief and gunner immediately returned fire with their two M-60 machine guns."
The outpost also assisted the crew by laying down covering fire. Once on the ground, the aircraft commander began to shut the helicopter down as Mike made a mayday call which was received by a nearby cargo aircraft. The gunner and crew chief grabbed the M-60's and all of the ammo they could carry while the pilots grabbed their M-14 rifles and ran for the outpost, the whole time under enemy fire. The crew made it to shelter and for the next five days fought alongside the men of the outpost, the whole time using their helicopter's weapons to supplement those of the base. A daring rescue mission would eventually get them out of there and a month later, The Good Widow would be airlifted by a Chinook back to Soc Trang.
Truly an amazing story and one worth preserving to tell the full story of the legacy of the name "The Good Widow Mrs. Jones."