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as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

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Friday, December 30, 2011

ZIT 990 Homecoming

By Annette Lawless | annette.lawless@fox8.com
Staff Writer

ASHTABULA, Ohio— Army veteran Nate Shaffer, of Spencerville, returned home from the Vietnam War over forty years ago.  Now, he has a new homecoming to celebrate.

"I started looking for the pilots and crew members back in 1994, and I started looking for 990 also," he said.

In the 1990's, Shaffer started searching for the ZIT 990, a helicopter he flew every day in Vietnam. Shaffer was a gunner, and the unit had a vital life--even beyond his military tour.

"It had like 21 world records for flight," he said. "It flew with the National Guard in Chicago.  Then it flew in the national guard in New York. Then it went with Texas Border Patrol."

Yet this past year, Shaffer heard the government planned to scrap the chopper. He had other plans for it.  "If I could just find the helicopter I flew in, I`d like to acquire it somehow," he said. "That's all that I wanted."

With the help of congressional representatives--and of course his persistence--Shaffer trucked it all the way down to Arizona and then brought it back to Ohio.  "I kept it for 18 days" he said. "We stripped it down, cleaned it, and even sanded and painted it. It looks exactly like it did back in Vietnam. "

When Bruce Campbell saw ZIT 990, he said it was like a step back in time.  "I got goose bumps. I had the biggest goose bumps, and I had them everywhere," said Campbell, Shaffer's pilot during the war. "When I sat down in the seat, looking at the console and stuff, lots of thoughts go rushing through my mind. I mean, so much so that, well, you kind of don't go there."

The helicopter is now on a platform at Motts Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio, putting ZIT 990 closer to fellow Vietnam gunner Russ Houser of Youngstown.  "It's hard to explain. You get some real flashbacks," Houser said. "It's very special to all three of us."

Yet, for Shaffer, this isn't the only piece of the war that's resurfaced in recent years.  A fellow soldier once surprised him with the dogs tags he lost in Vietnam.  Another veteran also had a surprise for him.  It was at a reunion.  "He brought back a pair of jump wings that I once had and thought I'd lost. The wings were lodged in a bunk where I slept. He dug them out and kept them for twenty-five years," Shaffer said. "It was unbelievable."

Shaffer said he prizes the bonds of friendship he's built after the war.  Now he, Campbell, and Houser are all reunited with a piece of the war they cherish most -- ZIT 990.  "The slight chance we had of getting it, but I thought about it all the time. I'm going to get, I'm going to get it," Shaffer said. "I was determined to get it. And luckily, it did work out that I basically did get it."

Copyright © 2011, WJW-TV

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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