On July 6, members of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot’s Association (VHPA) from around the nation held their 30th reunion at the Hilton hotel in San Francisco.< p>The group was organized to preserve the history of helicopter pilots that served in the Vietnam War.
Retired pilots Major Herbert Metoyer, Captain Clovis Jones, Jr., Dr. Joe Ponds, Chief Warrant Officer 5 J. Louis Nance, and Joe Jackson each shared their experiences at the reunion and chronicled the many contributions of Black pilots.
Metoyer, who served in the war with his brother Bryford Metoyer – the second pilot killed in Vietnam, shared his story of “two Black Creole brothers,” among the first U.S. Army helicopter pilots.
During his presentation, Captain Jones talked about Chief Warrant Officer 4 Cleveland Valrey, a local resident who was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001.
Among accomplishments of Black aviators, four pilots including Valrey were inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame – Major General James Hamlet, Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Hargrove, and Colonel Harry Townsend.
Three pilots served on the presidential flight detachment – chief pilot Carl Burhanan, pilot George Baker, and standardization pilot Frank Joseph. Burhanan and Baker were also a part of the first all Black flight crew to serve on Army One for President Gerald R. Ford.
In an interview with The Post, Jones recounted the prejudices he and other pilots faced during that era.
“I was told by my flight instructor on the first day of training that Blacks don’t make good pilots; it was totally based on skin color and prejudice, but I knew better,” said Jones.
“We know what it takes to overcome the challenges from being a Black pilot. All of us faced similar challenges. We used to say there was a quota that no more than 2 Black pilots would graduate at a time – it’s those kinds of personal experiences that Black pilots went through, but we prevailed.”