The Korean War is often called the Forgotten War. Recently, one veteran had the opportunity to shed light on a remarkable aspect of one of the most challenging American conflicts of the twentieth century. Colonel Reinhardt Leu, USMC ret. recently visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center to see the Sikorsky HO5S-1 helicopter now on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar. Leu flew this particular aircraft during combat medevacs in Korea. Also in attendance was Fred Clark, who had restored and donated the aircraft in 2007. He had acquired the aircraft as military surplus for Orlando Helicopter Airways, flew it as a cropduster and sightseeing aircraft in Florida and even experimented with installing an all-electric drive in it.
“Chief” Leu is an extraordinary individual. He flew extensive combat in three wars. He was in the first unit of Corsairs to deploy to the Pacific in WWII. Postwar, he pioneered the use of the helicopter with HMX-1, conducting some of the first tests of helicopter assault. Among his more harrowing experiences, he survived a fiery helicopter crash into the frozen Susquehanna River after flying into an unseen powerline. On March 27, 1952, he picked up the Museum’s aircraft at the Sikorsky factory for delivery to Quantico, where it was only the second of its type to be accepted. In July of the same year, Leu became the Chief of Operations for VMO-6, the Marine Corps’ sole liaison and medical evacuation squadron in the Korean War. He supervised the delivery of the first six HO5S-1s to Korea, including the Museum’s aircraft. A survey of Leu’s logbook shows that he logged 430 hours in VMO-6 helicopters, including twenty hours in the Museum’s example. He personally evacuated four wounded Marines from the front lines in this aircraft. Leu’s remarkable career as a Marine aviator continued after Korea, and he commanded helicopter squadron HMM-162 (flying Sikorsky UH-34Ds – a type also on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) in one of the first Marine deployments to Vietnam. He retired as commander of the Marine Corps Air Station at New River. Leu greatly enjoyed the opportunity to sit in his old aircraft – a rare privilege extended only to those who can show that they had flown the actual artifact.
Roger Connor is curator of vertical flight in the Aeronautics Division of the National Air and Space Museum