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Chopper dedication stirs memories for Valley woman

A refurbished H-3 helicopter sits on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, prior to being dedicated. The choppers were workhorses for the Navy during the Vietnam War and used to pull space capsules from the ocean during the early years of America's space program. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

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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