KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When Jack Catt first walked into the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. a few years ago he did so reluctantly.

“I was dragging my feet after the family,” recalled the now 82-year old veteran of the war in Vietnam.  But that is when a centerpiece of “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit caught his eye, a Huey helicopter with a yellow “Robin Hood” hat painted on the nose.

“The second thing that caught my (eye) was 0-9-1 and I thought, I’ve flown that chopper a number of times,” said the veteran pilot of two combat tours.  

Records show that helicopter, which later became the subject of a documentary film, and Jack Catt were both in Vietnam at the same time.  

Although his old flight records don’t list the specific airships he flew at war, the retired colonel is certain he flew a series of missions in that very helicopter. And when he told his 8-year-old grandson about the surprise connection, the questions started to flow in that museum.

“He says, granddad, what are these patches in the floor of this aircraft and I told him, I says Jackson, those are bullet holes and we looked at those as band-aids,” said the 24-year Army veteran.

Jack Catt
A photo of Jack Catt receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross from General William Westmoreland after one particular combat mission in Vietnam.
John Becker

It marked the first time the Jack Catt started feeling comfortable about sharing his memories of his war years with his family. 

In addition to our on-camera conversation about that breakthrough moment, the retired colonel also took the time to answer the following 10 questions about the impact his military service has had on the rest of this life.

10 Questions:  Jack Catt

1. What one person influenced you most in life? I have so many people who have influenced my life, but probably my father who taught me the value of hard work and honesty in all you say and do (your word is your bond).

2. Do you feel honored and respected for serving your country? Absolutely yes and have no regrets for having served.

3. How can people thank you for your service? I think the community and local media do a great job of honoring our veterans, as witnessed by the veterans' day parade and several other events. I haven't given it much thought --- I've never felt a need to be thanked.

4. How do you honor your fellow service men and women? Our church class has a number of vets who I keep up with, make hospital visits and visit with veterans at Ben Atchley Veterans Home, and on occasion, present vets with flags (and certificates) that have flown over the US Capitol.

5. How do you think this generation of military men and women is different or similar to yours? I entered the Army through ROTC when the draft was still in effect. The draft provided a lot of young men structure and discipline which was needed. We now have an all volunteer service of men and women that serves out of a sense of patriotism and love of country. The National Guard and Reserves have been called upon as never before to deploy. Technology has made it easy to stay in communication with loved ones which relieves a lot of stress.

6. What influence did your military service have on the rest of your life? It has given me a better sense of appreciation of having been born in this great country and understanding of the sacrifices that were made to make it great.

7. Does your family have a history of military service? Yes. One uncle was killed in Okinawa, and my earliest memory of the military was the shiny black sedan that came to inform my aunt that he had been killed. Two uncles were severely injured in World War II. Two of my brothers served at the time I was in Vietnam - one in Korea and other in Germany.

8. Would you encourage younger generations in your family to join the service? Yes.

9. How has your opinion of war changed? War has become so politicized that the government loses sight of the objective and our young men and women bear the burden and sacrifice.

10. How did your military experience shape your faith? Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." I look back and see the Lord's Hand directing my life, always for good...even when I didn't think so at the time. Therefore, I trust in Him and am at peace.

Additional Biography Notes Courtesy Jack Catt: COL Retired USArmy

I was a captain in 1966 when serving in the 173rd Combat Assault Helicopter unit (known as the Robin Hoods). There were two helicopters that stick in my mind - one was 058 known as a "weak sister" and 091 which was the new and best assigned to our unit. I was not aware of the chopper being on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History until 2012 when visiting the museum with family. I try not to dwell on those years, but coming face to face with that display brought it back in a flash. I have no records to prove that I flew 091, but it's something you don't forget. I did two tours in Vietnam - 1966-67 and 1969-70. It was a privilege to serve with so many young, dedicated and brave soldiers It was an honor and privilege to serve our country for nearly 30 years and retired from the Army back to TN Jon 30 Nov 1988