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Bruce Peck reunites with an old friend

Special to The Orator from Peru Tribune
By Sherry Loshnowsky
“I bet he’s run his hand over that (helicopter) a hundred times since we got here,” Charlene Peck said, speaking as her husband Bruce touched the front of the 803 helicopter at the American Huey museum.  “It’s like being reunited with an old friend.”

The Pecks are from Denton, North Carolina and decided to make a stop in Peru Thursday on their way to Illinois to check out the American Huey museum and see the old chopper Peck, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, once flew over Viet Nam. They had read about museum online. Seeing that old army vehicle brought back a rush of memories, most of which were simply too painful for Peck to talk about.

“There’s just no way I can put into words the feelings I have right now,” he said.

 Peck was in the U.S. Army from 1966-1970 and spent a year in Viet Nam. They would use choppers to fly in supplies like food and ammunition to outposts that were inaccessible by other vehicles. He was awarded a few medals for his service, including a Distinguished Flying Cross. Peck was amazed to see the 803 because it had been in an accident - it crash landed and the skids were ripped off.

“Usually they just dropped them into the South China Sea,” he said. “But for some reason, this one made it back.”

He described the Huey as the work horse of Viet Nam.

“It did everything,” he said.

Peck was just 21 years old when he enlisted in the army, and he was already a pilot. He taught flight school after he returned to the states. He described his time in Viet Nam as a 24/7 adrenaline rush.

“There was no sitting back and relaxing - you never stopped,” he said. “It was exciting.”

He even joked that he’d spent his whole life trying to recreate the feelings he had when he was there, but there’s just nothing that compares to it.

Unfortunately, Peck wasn’t welcomed back when he returned home.

“We didn’t get a good reception,” he joked, adding that the first thing they did when they got home was got rid of their uniforms.
He said there were no big parties or celebrations like you see nowadays when veterans return from overseas. But it has changed, Peck said, and that’s a good thing.

“Maybe the things that happened to us were the start of good things for the military,” he said. “If (the perception) changed because of us, then it was all worth it.”

Back in March, Peck was able to reunite with some of his friends he served with at the funeral of their platoon leader. He calls them a “band of brothers” who are the only ones who can truly understand each other after what they experienced. He said he thought of the 15 or so pilots he served with only half of them are still living today.

On August 9-10 the American Huey 369 Museum will host its annual gathering and membership drive, and the Pecks are considering making a return visit for some “stick time”.

“It’s been a few years but I don’t think I would have any trouble,” he said.

Peck has logged more than 20,000 hours of flying time in his life, as he is also a retired captain from American Airways.

Bruce and Charlene have been married for 46 years and have three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grand child.

And if there’s any way one can help mend the scars of soldiers who have served during a war, it’s with a kind word, Charlene said.

“Tell them welcome home,” she said. “No one ever told (Viet Nam vets) that. Tell them thank you for your service. It really does mean all the world to them, because no one said it to them when they needed to hear it.”