Fort Bragg's Airborne and Special Operations Museum exhibit honors 173rd Airborne Brigade

By Tina Ray, ParaglideJune 10, 2009

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - An exhibit honoring the service of the Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade was unveiled May 19 at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum on Bragg Boulevard.

The exhibit, called 173rd Sky Soldiers: The Legend Continues, highlights the airborne brigade's history and Operation Hump, one of its most famous battles.

According to the exhibit, in 1965, the Sky Soldiers entered Vietnam to restore security against Viet Cong forces.

On Nov. 8, a day-long battled ensued that cost the lives of 48 Americans.

The story of retired Army Master Sgt. Niles Harris, a Soldier who participated in that battle, was captured in the song, "8th of November," according to an ASOM press release. Country musicians, Big & Rich, recorded the song and a custom-built chopper paid for by them and given to Harris was on display at the museum.

Also displayed was an original 10 feet by 18 feet painting by artist Craig Bone.

"Because of the impact of the painting, coupled with the touching story in the song, we decided to weave an exhibit around the painting," said Mary Dennings, curator of collections at ASOM.

After hearing Harris' story, Bone said he was inspired and told the audience at the exhibit's unveiling, "I'm trying to show the American people the best light of the American Soldier. I tried to capture Nov. 8 into one painting."

2nd Lt. Gus Vendetti who served with the 173rd and spent three tours in Vietnam also attendedthe unveiling of the exhibit.

"These are my brothers and they were a very special unit. Anybody who has ever been a part of it ... you can't forget it," Vendetti said.

Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Arthur Huff also served with the 173rd in Vietnam and says the unit still is very special to him.

"Every day I wake up, I wear the 173rd patch. I have a T-shirt or a jacket on," said the 77-year-old Huff, of Fayetteville.

Barry Porter facilitated the showing of Bone's painting with the exhibit, said ASOM executive director, Paul Galloway.

Porter serves as regional executive director of the Triangle Area Chapter, American Red Cross, which held a benefit concert in November 2008 that showcased the painting.

The painting is on loan and will return to the National Veterans Freedom Park in Cary, N.C. Porter said.

"To be a part of this exhibit by adding this painting and bringing attention is a great celebration," he said.

Soldiers of the 173rd have answered the nation's call to sacrifice, said Col. Mark Stammer, commander of 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division and a former 173rd combat veteran who was the guest speaker at the unveiling.

Stammer said it was an honor and a privilege to have served in such a storied organization.

"I've been all over the world," Huff said. "I'm thrilled to be a member of the 173rd Sky Soldier.

The exhibit, 173rd Sky Soldiers: The Legend Continues, will run through Veteran's Day, said Galloway.