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Updated Oct 12, 2012 - 10:23 am

Chopper dedication stirs memories for Valley woman

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — Donna Pratt wasn’t sure what to think when
officials at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum told her a refurbished
H-3 helicopter on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown would be
dedicated in part to the memory of her husband.

Pratt, who lives in San Tan Valley, Ariz., was 24 when her husband went down with two other crewmen aboard an H-3
that was the only chopper lost from the carrier during Vietnam. She worried the
dedication would reopen old wounds from the war.

“But it didn’t turn out that way. It turned out to be a joyous memorial,” she
said.

Pratt and her daughter, Eileen Pratt Owen, were
among 100 people who gathered on the flight deck of the carrier on Friday to
dedicate the helicopter.

The H-3 was a Navy workhorse during Vietnam and it also helped recover
astronauts at sea during the early days of the space program.

The Yorktown chopper was dedicated to Pratt, an aviation anti-submarine warfare
technician 1st class, and to pilots Lt. Thomas Vincent and Lt. Charles Moran,
who were aboard an H-3 heading off on a night combat mission on Feb. 25, 1965.
The chopper developed electrical problems and crashed at sea.

Their names are painted on one side of the fuselage, while, on the other side,
are the names of two aviators who are still living, Dr. Art Schmitt and James
Dorsey, who, among other things, helped recover Apollo space capsules.

Donna Pratt said what the dedication really means came into focus during the
brief ceremony.

“Now he has a legacy. Schoolchildren will hear about them and they will know
what they did,” she said. “We were believers back then. He believed everything
about this country that was noble and honorable and he believed he was doing a
very important job that he loved.”

Pratt’s daughter, 7 months old when her father died, grew up hearing about him.

“I heard that he was a loving husband and a loving father and a hard worker,”
she said. “Recently I got to meet some of his crewmen and I learned a different
aspect of him. He was a leader. He was older and they looked up to him at 27.”

Such dedications, she added, “honors that era and gives them the recognition
that maybe they didn’t get immediately after Vietnam.”

The dedication was the first by a new aircraft naming committee at
Patriots Point. The committee receives nominations from veterans and aircraft
associations for people whose names should be places on aircraft at the museum.

Those honored must have flown the type of aircraft on display and preference is
now given to those who flew in combat and flew off the Yorktown.

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