The VCH-34 presidential helicopter on display at the Fort Rucker Army Aviation Museum in Alabama is a model for this years White House Historical Association (WHHA) Christmas ornament. The 2019 ornament honors President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first President to use helicopters in 1957, and the helicopter displayed at the museum was one of the first used by Eisenhower.
On September 23rd the WHHA hosted an event at the Army Aviation Museum to help tell the story of the aircraft and the ornament. "We were honored and pleased to host the event and bring greater awareness about the legacy of Army aviation in presidential history." Said Bob Mitchell, the Army Aviation Museum Director.
According to Stewart McLaurin, President of the WHHA, "We like to use the ornament each year to tell a story about the President we are honoring. This year we wanted to use Ike's military history and the fact that he was the first to use helicopters was compelling to us."
The helicopter on display at the Army Aviation Museum, nick named the "whirlybird," is a model that first appeared after the Korean War. It is also the same helicopter President Eisenhower used to transport other world leaders around Washington D.C. including Winston Churchill and Nikita Khrushchev.
McLaurin noted that the mission of the WHHA and the ornament program is "educating and inspiring." He said "the enthusiasm to the ornament this year is the perfect validation of what we're doing." and went on to say that you could see the connection that the ornament was making with the young people at Fort Rucker.
Attending the ceremony at the Army Aviation Museum were about 200 people including Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Congresswoman Martha Roby, local representatives, the Fort Rucker Commanding General, Maj. Gen. David J. Francis and numerous other staff members, Soldiers and families. Mitchell said, "It was a big event for the post and local community. There was a lot of pride that we are being featured in such a positive way."
Also attending was the family of Retired Army Lt. Col. William A. Howell who established and led the Executive Flight Detachment in 1957 and piloted this helicopter for both Eisenhower and Kennedy. Howell who passed away in 2007, was also the first curator for the Army Aviation Museum. Mitchell said, "The event was not only a tribute to the legacy of President Eisenhower but it also honored the service of Lt. Col. Howell."
The Army can't take all the credit for the ornament design. To show he was being fair as Commander in Chief, Eisenhower had two executive flight detachments alternating transport missions, equipment and crews. One from the Army and the other from the Marine Corps. This program stayed in effect until President Ford decided to use only the Marine Corps Detachment for his transport requirements.
Likewise, the helicopter ornament this year also represents Eisenhower's fairness to both services since it does not represent a single helicopter or military branch. On one side of the ornament is the Presidential Seal and on the other side is Eisenhower's Five-Star Rank honoring his military service.
McLaurin was proud to note that the company who has been designing and producing the ornaments since they were introduced in 1981 is a Veteran founded company in Rhode Island. They are the ones who took the concept and consulted museums for advice to determine the best historically accurate design.
Since the event at Fort Rucker, the Army Aviation Museum has experienced an increase in interest. Mitchell said he was grateful that the ornament has increased visitation to the museum. "It is something special that is driving more interest in Army Aviation history."
The Army Aviation Museum is part of the Army Museum Enterprise (AME). The AME maintains the Army's material culture and manages Active Army Component museums at 29 installations across the United States, Korea and Germany. They also manage federal historic property found at an additional 48 National Guard Museums with a total Army collection of more than 608,000 artifacts.
For more information on the Army Aviation Museum, the Army Museum Enterprise and Army history visit the Center of Military History website at www.history.army.mil