Vietnam vet’s unit finally recognized

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Pictured, Lonnie Roy of Maeystown holds up a book with pictures of the HA(L)-3 Seawolves and a documentary about the Navy squadron, which Roy served in. 

Almost 50 years after he left Vietnam, the Navy squadron of Maeystown’s Lonnie Roy is finally being recognized for its service. 

Roy was a member of the HA(L)-3 Seawolves, a Navy aviation squadron that was commissioned in Vietnam in 1966 and decommissioned in 1972.

In those six years, the squadron earned myriad commendations, but most people have not heard of the approximately 2,500 men in the Seawolves. 

“It’s been 50 years before we got recognized because we never had a home base in the United States,” Roy said. “It was always overlooked by everyone.” 

The squadron also lacked some recognition because much of its work, which involved combat missions in Vietnam, remains classified. 

That is changing, however, as a documentary entitled “Scramble The Seawolves” premiered last year in San Diego and is available for streaming on PBS. 

“It’s a good movie,” Roy said. “I really think it is.” 

Roy’s involvement with the Seawolves came after he enlisted in the Navy in 1967, traveling to California to become an electrician on an aircraft. 

After that, Roy went to Florida for Navy SEAL training, earning a promotion in the process. 

By October 1968, he was working in a group called Det. 3 with the Seawolves after he volunteered for the job. 

There were two helicopters in each Det. and seven total Dets.

Roy’s job was to repair the helicopters. 

“My basic job was keeping them flying,” Roy said. “It was hard because we never had the parts. Everything we got, the Army threw away for its choppers. And it didn’t matter where it was, we had to try to get them up in the air.”

Sometimes, that meant Roy would fly into the field to repair a downed helicopter. His role could be either to fix the machine or man a gun on the helicopter he flew on. 

He went on a couple dozen of those missions, getting shot at several times, though the helicopters would usually get out of the battle before being repaired. 

“We feel like it didn’t make any difference if we were a door gunner or we were in the maintenance,” Roy said. “It took all of us to do the job.” 

The conditions were also often difficult because the Seawolves would fly missions at night or during inclement whether because the Army did not have the equipment for those conditions. 

Although he was only in Vietnam for a year, leaving in October 1969 to serve in the Philippines and Thailand, Roy received Air Warfare Wings and four Bronze Stars. 

He still occasionally gets some awards as more of the Seawolves’ exploits are declassified. 

“We don’t look for all that,” Roy emphasized. 

He also saw things that he will never forget, such as five of his friends dying when their helicopter was shot down. 

“That kind of bothers me all the time,” Roy said. “Sometimes, I have nightmares.”  

Those details and more are revealed in the documentary, which was made by the daughter and son-in-law of the Seawolves Association president. 

The documentarians did not speak with Roy for the film, though they did interview several of his fellow servicemen. 

Through those interviews and other research, the filmmakers determined the Seawolves are among the most decorated outfits ever. 

According to the film, it was awarded five Navy Crosses, 31 Silver Stars, 219 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 15,964 Air Medals, countless other medals and received multiple Presidential Unit Citations.

Roy said about 85 percent of the documentary is actual footage from the unit’s missions. 

He said that gives the film a depth he appreciates. 

Roy has seen the documentary at screenings across the country, participating in question-and-answer sessions with the audience afterwards. 

He prefers the Blu-Ray version because it includes about an extra half-hour that PBS cut so it could fit the film in its time slot. 

The film, which is narrated by Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame, can be streamed at video.kpbs.org/video/scramble-the-seawolves-yacuzi or purchased at scrambletheseawolves.com. 

If people would like to see it on the local PBS station, contact the station. 

No matter how individuals see it, Roy said the film is worth watching. 

“The first thing is it is true footage of what we did in Vietnam,” he said. “The second thing is that we’re the most decorated Navy squadron in the history of the Navy, and we were forgotten about for 50 years.”

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