'Take Me Home Huey': Film Review | Palm Springs 2017

Courtesy of Palm Springs International Film Festival
A fresh and moving approach to the legacy of Vietnam.

The doc focuses on artist Steve Maloney, who restored and decorated a helicopter shot down in Vietnam in 1969 as a way of paying tribute to forgotten veterans.

One of the documentaries having its world premiere in Palm Springs, Take Me Home Huey, is a moving tribute to the Vietnam War veterans who have suffered unfairly for their involvement in America’s unpopular war. This film will undoubtedly find a home on TV, but it also plays well in theaters. Wherever you see it, it is sure to provoke strong reactions.

Steve Maloney is a sculptor who got hold of an actual Huey helicopter that was shot down in 1969 but still survived. He decided to decorate and restore it as a way of reminding people of the sacrifices made by soldiers who still have not been fully welcomed back into American society. Maloney partnered with filmmakers Alicia Brauns and Christine Steele, who chronicle the construction of the sculpture along with the reactions of survivors of the chopper’s final mission. At the Palm Springs screenings, the helicopter was on display in front of the theater, adding to the strong emotion that the film stirs.

One of the points that Maloney and other interviewees make is that PTSD remains a common affliction among Vietnam veterans, some of whom have committed suicide even decades after the end of the war. A couple of former soldiers interviewed in the doc recall the suspicion that greeted them when they returned from Vietnam. ake Me Home Huey does not try to justify America’s involvement in the war, merely to capture some of the human costs of that decade-long nightmare.

Huey 174 was a medical rescue helicopter that was shot down on Valentine’s Day in 1969. Crew chief Gary Dubach and medic Stephen Schumacher were killed when the chopper crashed. The others on the aircraft were rescued. The pilot has still not completely recovered from the trauma, and he was at first reluctant to view the sculpture. Another member of the crew had vanished and was only located with great difficulty. The sculpture has been on display at several museums, and the surviving crew members along with family members of the men killed (including Dubach’s sister) eventually found healing in seeing the boldly painted helicopter, which is meant as a tribute to the American spirit as well as a memorial to the men whose lives were lost not just on that mission but throughout the war.

The doc’s modesty is a primary virtue. It stays away from the larger sociopolitical and historical dimensions of the Vietnam conflict, instead focusing on just a few individuals who were involved in this small but searing tragedy. The editing is tight, and the interviews never turn maudlin. When the surviving crew members and families of the victims are reunited at one of the sculpture’s demonstrations, the memories that they share seem to bring a long overdue sense of healing. At a time of savage divisiveness in this country, this film could prove to be a surprising tonic.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival (True Stories)
Production: An Art by Maloney, LLC Production for Light Horse Legacy, Inc.
Director-editors: Alicia Brauns, Christine Steele
Producers: Alicia Brauns, Christine Steele, Stephen D. Zapantis Jr.
Executive producer: Steve Maloney
Directors of photography: Charles Glosup, Bruce Martin, Steve Martin
Music: Jeanie Cunningham

Not rated, 70 minutes