Let’s go! A busy month of sauerkraut, hikes, and helicopters

By on February 1, 2016
The Liberty War Birds Association, which is restoring a Vietnam-era helicopter at the Lancaster Airport, includes (left to right) Nic Gurganus, Dave Jones, Kevin Schnetzka, Steve Rosinski, Bruce Grace, Tim McCredie, Jim Haga, Wes Crozier, Barry Horn, Rob Sangrey, Kathy McCullough, Sarah’s kid, Bruce McCullough, Kathy Wiker, Mike Caimi, Don Beatty, and Alexis Lake.

The Liberty War Birds Association, which is restoring a Vietnam-era helicopter at the Lancaster Airport, includes (left to right) Nic Gurganus, Dave Jones, Kevin Schnetzka, Steve Rosinski, Bruce Grace, Tim McCredie, Jim Haga, Wes Crozier, Barry Horn, Rob Sangrey, Kathy McCullough, Sarah’s kid, Bruce McCullough, Kathy Wiker, Mike Caimi, Don Beatty, and Alexis Lake.

As December came to a close, we were ready to say goodbye to the holidays. We were exhausted, ready to sink into the couch and sleep through the far-less hectic month of January. However, our kids, both under 6, had other plans. They were bored, displaying the early stages of cabin fever, and ready to move on from their new Christmas toys.

When do parents get a break?

There’s no such thing.

Ushering in the New Year with COB

Who wants to cook and clean on Jan. 1?

You don’t have to if you go to the New Year’s Day Pork & Sauerkraut Supper at Lititz Church of the Brethren. It was our first time at this popular tradition, and we were amazed at the magnitude of the operation.

We were welcomed by Pastor Eric Landram, and volunteers ushered toward the food line as we listened to organ and trumpet music. In total, there were more than 150 volunteers, including 20 teen helpers in the dining area. As a mother with a small child and baby, I was pleasantly surprised when the volunteers helped load our kids’ plates with delicious pork, homemade mashed potatoes, and sweet applesauce.

With 24 tables seating at least 15 people each, the church hosted about 360 people per seating, with a total of 1,400 eat-in guests in about three and a half hours. They even had a highchair for my 1-year-old, who got in free of charge and enjoyed her share of potatoes and applesauce, and some frosted marble cake for dessert.

In all, these tireless volunteers served more than 2,025 meals, including take-outs, Meals on Wheels, and meals donated to the Gate House and Water Street Rescue Mission.

By 1:30 p.m., I overheard a volunteer mentioning they were running low on silverware, which was not shocking news considering they just dished out over 900 pounds of slow-cooked pork.

Three families are the driving force behind this massive endeavor —Mark and Marty Hershey, Ken and Jo Ann Hess, and Gerald and Carol Kurl.

“Most supplies are donated,” Gerald pointed out, allowing most of the profits to go directly to youth programs at Church of the Brethren.

It was a yummy start to the new year, and it was for a good cause, and neither of us had to cook or clean up. Win-win-win!

Hiking at Speedwell

Remember life before Winter Storm Jonas? We had a nice little warm spell, and with all the excitement surrounding the return of our local lake (it’s supposed to be full of water by spring), we headed north of Lititz for a family hike.

A blanket of leaves matted the trail that Sunday afternoon, instilling the essence of fall forever rather than winter wonderland. With my husband Derek and son Derek Jr., 5 years old, by my side, I sank in the mud as we stopped to analyze deer tracks. They seemed to walk the trail with us through the light mist. The journey had us crossing two runoff streams that followed the trail’s ebbs and flows. We scavenged some handy walking sticks and continued our journey. The trees, being barren of leaves, allowed a clear view of the lake for the majority of our hike.

We soon made it to the dam, where water had pooled along with the foliage, resembling a wetland or swamp.

January can be a tough month for outdoor activity, and we weren’t really sure if we were up for a hike that day, but on Monday, when my son said, “We had a nice day yesterday, didn’t we mommy?” there was no question in my mind.

“Yes, we did,” I said with a smile.

For information about scheduled events at Speedwell, check the county parks website at lancastercountyparks.org.

Honoring Huey

During a nice evening out at VFW Post 1463, my husband introduced me to Bruce McCullough —senior vice commander of the post, Air Force veteran, and director of public affairs for the Liberty War Bird Association. He invited us to the Dutch Country Helicopter hanger at the airport to check out a piece of U.S. history.

When we arrived on a Saturday, Jim Haga, Vietnam veteran and Liberty War Birds president, explained that unbeknownst to most of Lititz, a small band of mechanics, technicians, office staff, and board members have been gathering each week to work on the UH-1 Flying Museum. This is an ambitious crew of men and women volunteers, elbows-deep in a phase one nose-to-tail inspection. When they’re finished, it will be the only operational Vietnam-era UH-1 helicopter in the entire Northeast.

The Huey 823 originally flew for the 170th AHC (and Company C 101st Aviation Battalion 101st Airborne) in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969. It’s being restored as a Bikini (170th) ship to be used in air shows, rides for veterans, VFW events, holidays, community days, and sporting events.

The Liberty War Bird Association crew began working on it last April. Each instrument and part is being completely disassembled, cleaned, tested, and replaced or repaired. This includes a complete engine tear-down.

Derek Jr. and I climbed up the landing skids and sat right where a machine gunner would have sat. Bruce explained to me how there aren’t as many war birds left as there were during the Vietnam War. We discussed the history of the final evacuation in Saigon as the USS Kirk FF-1087 destroyer awaited soldiers being evacuated by Huey helicopters. They’d fly them to the ship and land, unload troops, and then desperately push the helicopter into the ocean to make more room for incoming soldiers. To read more about the USS Kirk FF-1087, go to www.kirk1087.org

As a transport vehicle, Hueys were used for deployment and rescue, and were often the last ride home.

Alexis Lake — Army veteran, aircraft mechanic, and VFW member — was removing the instrument panel for repair and inspection as I climbed into the cockpit. While recounting stories as the oral history project manager, she’s experienced an array of emotional responses from veterans in reflection.

“When they’re silent, we wait and just listen,” she said. Sometimes, she added, “they say it’s the first time they ever told anybody that story.”

Alexis has been preserving interviews with Vietnam veterans for some time, and if you would like to share your story you can contact her at hrdir@libertywarbirds.com.

We also talked to Don Beatty, another member, about an experience he had while showing the Huey to a veteran.

“He was talking about things he knew in his mind that it brought back,” he said. “He felt like a kid again.”

Michael Caimi, vice president and Navy veteran, pointed out the many bullet hole repair patches on the Huey 823’s frame. We were able to touch the patches and imagine the trajectory of the bullet in action. I got emotional imaging that nostalgic sound of the helicopter blade in rotation. This emotion is so real to veterans, and you may experience it as well on youtube.com. Look up Liberty War Birds Veterans Day Edition, or visit intheshadowoftheblade.com.

This particular helicopter is missing rotor blades. Finding an affordable set with hours left on it is one of the organization’s most difficult challenges. The helicopter is estimated to be a $450,000 project overall, with the rotor blades alone costing an average of $40,000 used with only 200 hours left on them.

Many Hueys sit as a static display in front of VFWs, museums, and memorials. A few have been converted into vehicles to fight fires. As a community we can become founding members, preserve history, and keep this war bird helicopter flying. Join me in becoming a founding member, read more yourself, or help by making a contribution of your choice. See more at libertywarbirds.com

The Liberty War Bird Association is currently planning its “Huey Hustle 5K on the Runway,” a fundraiser race to benefit the restoration of this helicopter. The race includes a wheelchair category. Last year there was an estimated 120 runners, directed by Civil Air Patrol. The tentative date for the next Huey Hustle is Sept. 24, 8 a.m., rain or shine, at the airport.

February preview

I’ll be checking out Lifetree Café’s casual discussion about life and faith. The group meets Mondays at 7 p.m. at the General Sutter Inn, 14 E. Main St., Lititz. Call Jerry McGrath with questions, 626-2710.

Lititz American Legion’s Hearts for Heroes Zumbathon is Friday, February 12, 6 to 9 p.m. The Legion is located at 109 N. Broad St. To learn more, call 626-9906 or register online at zumba.com for $15.

The Winter Wonderland Carnival at Fire & Ice is Saturday, Feb. 12, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Warwick High School gymnasium, 301 W. Orange St.

Did you know Lititz has a gymnastics center? Check out preschool open gym at Fusion Gymnastics, 10 Citation Lane. For more information, visit fusion-gymnastics.com or call 560-4978.

Sarah Hummer is a local freelance writer who journals about her family outings. Her monthly report is an extension of the Record Express Community Calendar, and she’s always looking for new events and ideas, and can be reached at sarjade83@outlook.com.

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