This blog post is the "back story" to student contributor, Ashley Jetton's Journey article: A Piece of History Preserved: Vietnam Veteran Restores Helicopter to 1967 Condition

It happens sometimes. You find what you're looking for when you're not even looking for it.

I came across my story idea for Coca Cola Journey when I was interviewing someone for a completely different reason. I met Bob Swink at the Winder Airport on a brisk afternoon last November. I was interviewing him about his past addiction with drugs and alcohol. He served in the Army and the National Guard as a pilot and a mechanic. Now he enjoys sharing his story because he hopes that it will help someone; he's been sober for 29 years.

I was standing in the middle of the hanger when Swink says, “I'll be right back. I'm just going to grab something real quick.” I wait, patiently. I'd only walked in moments before, so I was setting up my tripod and camera. I was looking at the camera screen, and began filming a brief scan of the area. I see: small airplane, small airplane, small airplane, really cool-looking helicopter, small airplane – wait what!? I withdrew my eyes from the screen and immediately ran over to the helicopter.

“Alrighty, I'm all set for the interview!” Swink's voice bellows from across the the room.

I was on deadline. My story had to air that day. I had interviewed him, gotten all my shots, and had been called by the newsroom about four times and been told to “COME BACK NOW.” So, I briefly asked him about the helicopter, told Swink goodbye, and hit the road.

Driving back, I couldn't stop wondering about that really cool-looking helicopter.

So, when it came time to decide what my story should be, of course, my curiosity began to grow. I had to find out more about Swink and his helicopter.

I called him, and he answered with his cheerful tone, as always. “Sure, sure. Next Friday, sure. That's great. Don't be afraid. See you then,” he says. Not only was Swink going to let me interview him about the helicopter, he told me he'd let me fly in it.

That Friday, it couldn't have been a prettier day; there wasn't a could in the sky. I'd never ridden in a helicopter. In fact, I'm uncomfortable with airplanes. Big “safe” airplanes. The thought of getting into this helicopter had my stomach in a knot. I acted like I was brave and unafraid on the outside. On the inside.... I was beyond terrified.

I asked Swink if it was safe. He responded, “It's safe... as safe as an old helicopter can be...” I laughed, and walked over to crawl inside the helicopter. He helped me get buckled up. “You're not going anywhere in that right there,” he said.

The anticipation was building as he went through all the steps of getting the helicopter started. It takes about three minutes to get it prepared before you can lift off the ground. Finally, we were off.

Vietnam Helicopter

We steadily climbed until we were at about 500 feet in the air. I looked over at Swink, who seemed confident and peaceful. I could see for miles. I sat there attempting to soak up all the beauty when I realized – my fear had vanished. I was in a helicopter that had flown in Vietnam more than forty years ago. Here I was flying in it in 2015... imagining all the things this helicopter has seen.

Before I knew it, we were descending. I could've stayed in the air for hours. It was one of the greatest experiences of my twenty-two years of life. I'd just went flying in a piece of history.

After we landed, I briefly interviewed him, thanked him, and left. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

About the Author

Ashley Jetton

Ashley Jetton is a Coca-Cola Journey student contributor. Jetton currently works at Full Media, an Internet Marketing Company in Atlanta. She’s a recent graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism with a degree in Digital & Broadcast Journalism and minor in Health Development & Family Sciences. Previously, Ashley interned at NewsChannel 9 in Chattanooga, TN and worked as a marketing assistant for State Farm.