Vietnam Huey (and Cobra) Rotor Chain Bracelet

Huey bracelet complete on wood block

Bracelet made from bright silver stainless steel rotor chain with a stainless steel clasp. Watch video

 

NOTE: We have recently acquired a few sections of Huey and Cobra rotor chains that are in good condition for creating bracelets. They have been authenticated by NW Helicopters in cooperation with engineers at Bell Helicopters. They have provided us signed and notarized documents of authenticity. We have both bright silver stainless steel and black high strength steel. As a service to our veterans, their service, and their memory, we are asking that only Huey crew members who survived crashes and close relations inquire about obtaining one of these rare bracelets. They have profound meaning to those who paid greatly to earn them. We wish to respect the symbolism of these bracelets by limiting their availability to those who best deserve and respect them. 

If you are looking to purchase a bracelet, or sell a length of rotor chain,
please complete this form or email Travis. 

And, if you have stories or information about the chain and bracelets, please share them! We are trying to build an article from first-hand accounts from the vets who were there. Just email your story about the bracelets to travis@hartleyjewelers.com

Legend has it that Vietnam War helicopter crews who survived crashes in Bell UH-1 “Huey” helicopters made bracelets, sometimes called “hard luck bracelets,” from the wreckage’s rotor chain (also known as “silent chains”, or “shoot down chains) to wear as a badge of honor (read: Vietnam Veteran Comforted by Surprise Huey Helicopter Chain Bracelet).  The bracelet signified that the crew had survived a crash from being shot down, or a tail rotor failure of some kind. Often,  the crew chiefs would simply file and pull a pin in the chain, size it, replace the pin, then hammer it closed.  We now know, after personally communicating with over 100 veterans, that the legend is real.

Northwest Helicopters‘ president, Brian Reynolds, knew about the legend (watch video) – saw the old black-and-white photos of soldiers wearing the self-fashioned bracelets – and searched years for the rare chain so he could make a few for himself and others.

The Huey, first used by the military in the 1960s, initially used a 15-inch length of specifically manufactured chain to control the tail rotor pitch.

“The chain is particular to the Bell UH-1 helicopter,” says Reynolds. “It’s only found on that model of helicopter and nowhere else.”

Bracelet made from black rotor chain with silver steel clasp.

Bracelet made from black rotor chain with silver steel clasp.

The chains, not well suited to the extreme challenges of combat that these helicopters faced, were eventually replaced by an updated, modernized version and were gone from service by the late 1960s. Today it’s extremely difficult to find the original design.

“People are hunting for these things. You just can’t find them,” Reynolds says of the original Vietnam-era bracelets. “And the ones you can find, the people have been wearing since the 1960s and they’re all worn out, basically.”

The chain, a series of a little plates and pins, moves in one motion.

“I’d been looking for a chain for 15 years, and then I found two by accident,” says Reynolds. “I was going through a box of other surplus helicopter parts and they happened to be at the bottom of it.”

Reynolds had finally uncovered the rare chain. Now he needed to find a local jeweler to help make his long-held dream a reality.

He opened his web browser and typed in “customer jeweler” and “Olympia.” He found three places to check out.

Hartley Jewelers was the most responsive,” Reynolds says. “I basically went in and said, ‘This is off a 1960s helicopter. Can you make a bracelet out of it?’”

In fact, Reynolds had an example to share with Hartley Jewelers: an old, worn version of the bracelet given to him by a European Huey owner many years before.

rotor-chaiThe Huey, first used by the military in the 1960s, initially used a 15-inch length of specifically manufactured chain to control the tail rotor pitch.n

The Huey, first used by the military in the 1960s, initially used a 15-inch length of specifically manufactured chain to control the tail rotor pitch.

“It was old and tired, but it was a good example,” says Reynolds. “It was more of a field modification than a jewelry store product.”

Longtime Hartley Jeweler goldsmith, designer, and heirloom restorer Margit Phillips looked at the bracelet and chain, listening carefully to what Reynolds wanted.

With 25 years of jewelry expertise behind her – the first 10 of them in her homeland of Germany – Phillips examined the sample and knew that it was a durable design that could be duplicated.

The design uses a modified watchband clasp fit to the chain. “I really thought it was very durable and the design made sense to me,” says Phillips.

Using the original bracelet as a pattern, Phillips was able to divide out the length of chain and make five bracelets. A few months later, Reynolds had her do the same with the second chain.

“The overall chain is surprisingly heavy,” says Phillips. “But as a bracelet, it’s quite wearable.”

Phillips admits she was surprised by how soft the chain’s metal was.

“When I had to re-rivet things to put the clasp on, I had to drill through some of the holes in the links, I realized it ground away faster than I expected.”

Reynolds laughs when describing the bracelet he now wears every day.

Bright silver stainless steel chain available to vets for custom bracelet order.

Bright silver stainless steel chain available to vets for custom bracelet order.

“You’ve got to be careful with them, because they have sharp edges,” he says. “Most people would see it as something a punk kid would wear, that could cut someone.”

But to everyone in his industry, the piece is instantly recognizable. “Everybody who sees it says, ‘Whoa! There’s one!’” he says.

Phillips, who has worked on so many unique custom pieces over the years, counts this project as one of the most distinctive.

“And that’s something that’s really fun about working with jewelry,” she says. “There are still pieces that really catch your eye. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and you never stop learning.”

Phillips is part of Hartley Jewelers talented team of jewelry artisans. “It is so much fun to work with a team where you don’t have to second-guess everything.”

Recently, a young man came into Hartley Jewelers with a bracelet, given to him by his grandfather that was also made from a Huey chain.

“He had no idea about the significance of that bracelet until he came here,” says Phillips, who of course immediately recognized the piece and was able to share the history of it with him.

Silver chain using an alternative clasp.

Silver chain using an improved clasp. This is now standard for all of our bracelets, as it has proven to be much more secure.

Reynolds has held onto a few of the custom-made bracelets, giving others to friends and people that work for him.

After so many years searching for the elusive rotor chain, and having a vision in his head of the finished product, was Reynolds happy with the final bracelets?

“Absolutely. It came together perfectly and it was exactly what I was looking for,” he says.

See Reynolds’ bracelet and a glimpse of Phillips at work creating it in this Hartley Jeweler video. If you have any information to share regarding the history of these bracelets, or the stories behind them, you are encouraged to email travis, who is collecting as much information as possible from those who were there.

Black high strength steel chain available to the public for custom bracelet.

Original black high strength steel rotor chain used  for custom bracelets.

From those who have inquired about the bracelets:

“…Lucky for us we were inside the wire. The last thing we stripped from the wreck was the tail rotor chain. We all walked away. What a day. I can still see the rotor blades hitting the dirt in front of my face…”

“I have only seen one a few years ago at a Vietnam Dustoff Association reunion. I do know an authentic Huey tail rotor chain bracelet form my era, before the chains were updated, are rare and to get a bracelet made from one would mean the world to me.”

“The guys who wore them flew rescue missions along with me and it was a type of unofficial “insignia” of our dedication to our mission and the love and respect for the Huey.”

“Haven’t had one in 40 years years. would help with me dealing with my PTSD”

“The price to have a “real clasp” put on the chain, $150.00; being able to wear it confidently with the security of not losing the tail rotor chain from a helicopter I worked on while in Viet Nam, and was able to bring back to the “World”, priceless.”

“I flew OH-6 Loach’s in 1969-1970. The last time I was shot down I was burned over 70% and spent the next 16 months in Army hospitals. I served and flew with the best. I was awarded a purple heart. 17 Air Medals, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallentry and 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses. I have about 100 hours logged in a huey. I have never worn jewelry but I think this would feel right.”

“… I had been the Crewchief of the ship it came off of so they presented it to me. My experience with these bracelets is pretty much the same as many others state. Usually it is from a crashed aircraft when it was salvaged and others are from replacement when it failed or even wore out or there was a bulletin about them to be replaced. They were in big demand.”

“My boyfriend had a bracelet he made while in Vietnam as a teenager gunner and mechanic soldier. He has lost the bracelet and I would love to replace it for him. Any help would be greatly appreciated.”

“…enjoyed article and video on tail rotor chain very much. I have been looking for a replacement for my original bracelet which was stolen/lost when i was hospitalized at VA hospital–i had been wearing my original chain since 1968. I was a helicopter crewchief with the 1st cav div in vietnam from 1967-1968—my helicopter was a uh1d-tail #563-of the b co 229th avn bn assaualt helicopter unit.”

I left basic training and went directly to Ft. Hood. As an E-1 Pvt., I was paired with a Spec 5 as his co-driver. He had recently returned from Vietnam. One of the first things I noticed was his bracelet. His was pinned on so it would be a real chore to remove it. I have wanted one of those bracelets ever since I first laid eyes on it.”

“My husband was a Crew Chief on a UH1D Huey Helicopter in Vietnam 1967-1968 and was there during the Tet Offensive. I would be very interested to know any information on this bracelet and would love to purchase one for him as a gift.”

“Flew UH-1 in VN and for many years in my civilian career and had a engine failure accident in 1995 that paralyzed me and put me in a wheel chair. Still loved flying the Huey.”

“I served my time in Vietnam in 1968 with the 1st Air Cav, during TET & the whole 9 yards. I lost my tail-rotor chain bracelet in 1994 & I have felt naked ever since.”

“The chain was an item that, when worn out, would be removed and replaced….but the supply folks kept the old one.  You had to turn one in to get one.  A few of the old timers had silent chain bracelets, but most of them were from Vietnam.  They were difficult to get.  At some point, the Army switched the chain design or manufacturer or something and for a short period of time, they were throwing the old chains out.  I ended up with a discarded one and ground a couple of rivets off of it to make a short piece for a bracelet. I sized it to fit my 20-year old wrist.  Over the years, I’ve worn it with just a bent piece of wire holding it together and then for a while with a small bolt/nut holding it together.”

“My dad was mine sweepstakes in 1967- 69 , he had a bracelet there and lost it on a road . He now has cancer due to agent orange … We were talking about bracelets and would love to have matching bracelets with a real meaning behind them .. we need 2 .”

“My father gave me one of these bracelets he made in Vietnam. His and my bracelet has been lost for a long time.”

A Vietnam “Huey” elicopter door gunner, Sp4 Price, on the left wearing a chain bracelet. Photo from www.usmilitariaforum.com member doyler.

 

WINGS

Once the wings go on, they never come off whether they can be seen or not.

It fuses to the soul through adversity, fear and adrenaline and no one who
has ever worn them with pride, integrity and guts can ever sleep through the
“call of the wild” that wafts through the bedroom windows in the deep of the
night.

When a good aircrewman leaves the “job” and retires, many are jealous, some
are pleased and yet others, who may have already retired, wonder. We wonder
if he knows what he is leaving behind, because we already know.

We know, for example, that after a lifetime of camaraderie that few
experience, it will remain as a longing for those past times. We know in the
world of flying, there is a fellowship which lasts long after the flight
suits are hung up in the back of the closet. We know even if he throws them
away, they will be on him with every step and breath that remains in his
life.

We also know how the very bearing of a man speaks of what he was and in his
heart still is.

Because we flew, we envy no man on earth.

–Author Unknown

Submitted by Travis Lind Thornton

Comments

  1. Mike Edwards

    Huey Crew Chief in Vietnam 65-66. Looking for a Tail Rotor Chain Braclet. Do you have one and if so what is the cost. US Army retired. Thanks.

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Garry, please read this page. There is a link at the top to a form you fill out. Once sent, I will get back to you with more information. Were you a Huey crew member?

      Respectfully,
      Travis

  2. Dave Rosenthal

    Sir, I am an X UH-1H/V crew chief from the 90s to the 2000s in the Army. I have always wanted a piece of one of these birds and this would be perfect to keep close to my heart. Are they available?

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Dave, thank you for both your question and your service to our country. These chains are extremely rare, and have profound meaning to those who earned them during the conflict. We have pledged to honor their meaning by sticking as closely to the original tradition of earning them as possible: Huey crew members who survived a crash during the war in Vietnam. We feel all of our servicemen and women “deserve” recognition. However, these bracelets are too rare and serve to specific a purpose to make them available outside of our pledged parameters. We sincerely hope you understand.

      Travis

  3. Bud Record

    Was a door gunner and crew chief HAL-3 1967 – 1968 in country. Went down two times and did have a tail rotor chain braclet. Haven’t been able to find it for years now. Think it was stolen when my house was broken into. Can you assist me in locating one.

    Thanks Bud Record

  4. Ronald Kostrzeski

    Hello, was in Vietnam from1969-1970. A huey captain gave me a huey chain link bracelet. I am looking for a replacement. Can you make one for me?

  5. Rick Miller

    i was helo crew chief / gunner UH-1 slick 1970 I- Corps 101st out of Phu Bai I wore a chain braclet then but i havent seen nor heard of them sence. I would love to order one thanks, rick miller

  6. Penni Evans

    I was a Donut Dollie in Vietnam, March 1870-1971. I received my tail rotor chain in the summer of 1970 and wore it for over 38 years before a couple of pins wore out and they began to fall thru so it is not safe to wear. I would love another one and hope to find one at a yard sale. I can’t afford $150 for one as I am on SS Disability from a work accident three years ago – a TBI which left me with major noise sensitivity. I can’t even go to Washington next month for the 20th Anniversary of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial which I worked on for years. Those bracelets meant a lot to us Donut Dollies, many of us had hard landings and such but mostly we love them because we love the Huey, it was our ride to work most days. Welcome Home Brothers and Sisters, thank you.

  7. Paul Webb

    Crew Chief with 247th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) Nha Trang 72-73. I wore my chain for a while pinned together with one of the rivets. I still use the end piece with an inch and a half of chain and the pull ring from a grenade as a key chain.

    Travis…Save those end pieces for key chains!! The are as recognizable as the bracelet.

  8. Chris Politi

    I recently attended my cousin’s Huey reunition. He was with the 173rd Assualt Co, called the Robin Hoods. I would like to surprise him with one of those braclets. Please advise what the process is. Thanks

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Chris, sounds like a great event. The “Robin Hoods” have a new webpage worth visiting. What is your cousin’s name? And, can you tell us a little about his role in the company? I will email privately with further details.

      Respectfully,
      Travis

  9. Larry

    I would like to thank you for the bracelet that you made for my dad; he is the man in the story “Vietnam Veteran Comforted by Surprise Huey Helicopter Chain Bracelet’. I know it means so much to him. I will never know what he and many others went through in that awful war, but I do know my dad is a wonderful man and father. For many years he would never talk about his service and to this day he still has trouble talking about it, but from the few things I do know I know that he was a brave and dedicated soldier, he didn’t do it for glory, he didn’t do it for medals , he did what he had to for his brothers and at times he went beyond what anyone could ask a 19 year old kid to do. I have seen a change in him since he received his bracelet, I see him looking at it from time to time and I know it comforts him, he and that bracelet have a bond neither I nor my mother will ever truly understand. I think for him it gives him peace to have a part of who he was back with him. It connects him to his brothers that he served with and for who he risked so much so selflessly, I call him a hero, but he denies being one, he said he was just doing his job, but as for me I will always look up to him. I am very proud of my dad and all the men and women who have served , fought and died for our country. Thank you again for helping my dad find some peace and a connection to himself. To each and every soldier living or passed on, serving now or have served I thank you all for the freedoms we enjoy because of your sacrifices. God bless you all and Welcome home!!

  10. BC

    e-mail was my call sign in Vietnam. 116th AHC. Hornet 11. I was searching for a tail rotor bracelet and came across your web site. I had no idea that they were that hard to come by. I do have an original that I received after losing my 1st ship to enemy fire in 1970. At that time it was riveted on me by the other aircraft commanders in the flight. To my understanding, any time you were shot down ,or due to other causes destroyed a helicopter, you got the rotor chain bracelet .A few years ago I did have a clasp put on it so it could be removed. Lost it one time only and found it in the couch ! I thought having another would help with the fear of loosing it. With a very limited number available I will gladly keep only the one that means the most to me and hopefully someone deserving gets one. ( I should have had 2 others, but there was only so much wrist !!) I would like a really good clasp put on so I would never again loose it but cost may be prohibitive . If I can be of further help please contact me. HORNET 11

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Hornet 11,
      Thank you both for your service in Vietnam, and for taking the time to write and share some of your knowledge of the bracelet. You have confirmed what many vets have written about the reason for getting a bracelet. Of course, I have heard from several vets who got them for different reasons. But, there is no doubt that the meaning and brotherhood symbolized in the bracelets is common among those who understand what it took to “earn” one. Thank you, also, for passing on a bracelet, so one is available to a vet without. I fear we will not get more chain, once this limited supply runs out. So, it is good to preserve them as much as possible. Regarding your current bracelet, adding a clasp is absolutely an option. We have done this for several vets who have had riveted bracelets, or just a length of chain. In any case, we were able to customize a stainless steel (silver color) watch-style clasp to their bracelets. In most cases, we can provide clasp, customization and installation for $150.00. I’ll email you directly to discuss it further.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks,
      Travis

  11. fred c. blas

    I had a tailrotor chain after my second CnB, I have been searching for tailrotor chains (silver). Where an How do I obtain one?

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Fred, thank you for writing about the bracelet. And, thank you for your service. We have a very small supply of authenticated stainless steel (silver) rotor chain available. And, a little of the black. I fear we will run out very soon. But, I have responded to your personal email with more details.

      Respectfully,
      Travis

  12. Mark Harp

    Had my bracelet stole after I came back from Nam in 72 and have been looking to replace it ever since. Been fighting Hep C and cancer from Agent Orange and getting ready for more cancer surgery, would mean alot to have one again.

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Mark, thank you for your comments. It always gives us pause to hear the sacrifices given during the war in Vietnam. You paid through sweat, struggle, blood and tears decades ago. Today, you are still sacrificing through diseases that started during an unpopular war, for which your surely didn’t get enough recognition or gratitude. Thank you for your service, both then and now. We send you are warmest wishes for a successful surgery. In the meantime, I will write to you personally to discuss acquiring a bracelet. We are down to enough chain for approximately eight bracelets… not sure if we will ever get more.

      Respectfully,
      Travis

  13. Bill Vaughan

    I was a crew chief on a AH1 cobra with the 9th Avn Bn, 9th Infintry Div I came, I saw, I conquered. I stenceled on the amo door of my ship. nov 68 to july 69,3/5 Air Cav july 69 at Dong Tam, then 7/1 Air Cav Vinh Long. The tail rotor chain had to be inspected every 25 flying hours, and replaced as preventive maintience avery 100 flying hours weather it was damaged or not. We cut them up and gave one to each member of our unit, till everyone had one. I wore mine home and still have it. I had to add a link to wear it now. I only weighed 125 lbs back than.

  14. David Gannon

    I served in RVN 69-70 (Hueys) and 71-72 (Chinooks). I was lucky to come home both times without a scrach. I still have some strong feelings about that time anf the people I server with. If possible, I would like to buy a SS chain bracelet. Please send the info on how to make this happen.

    thanks, Dave

    • Hartley Jewelers

      Dave, let me first say thank you for your service during that turbulent time. As I have said to many of the vets who contact us about the bracelet, I believe many of you sacrificed in ways most of us cannot understand. The consequences of your experiences are often felt still today. You likely did not receive the gratitude and appreciation you deserved at the time. You have our thanks and appreciation today.

      Regarding the chain bracelet, we are starting to run very low on sterling silver chain. At the moment, we have enough for approximately three more bracelets. We have more of the black chain available. At any rate, I will contact you privately with pricing and ordering details.

      Also, I am trying to gather first-hand information about the history of the bracelet. There is simply nothing online. That is why I made this quick questionnaire for those seeking a bracelet. If you could fill it out for me, I would greatly appreciate it. Of course, it is not required. Your service in a Huey is enough.

      Respectfully,
      Travis
      Hartley Jewelers

  15. Ronnie Wells

    I was Dustoff pilot in ‘Nam, 45th Med Co (70-71). The chains had to be removed from time to time due to wear, hence the availability of them in ‘Nam. One did not have to be in a crash to get one, only to know and befriend a maintenance person. They were called “silent chains” because that’s what the maintenance personnel called them. They were quiet and made little or noise, but I’m not sure that was the reason for “silent chains”. Plus they didn’t have to move far, probably less than 2 or 3 inches. Making bracelets was easy and the best ones used two pieces of chain. I still have mine.

  16. Dawn Rodriguez

    Dear Sir,
    My husband was a Crew Chief on a UH1D Huey Helicopter in Vietnam 1967-1968 and was there during the Tet Offensive. I would be very interested to know any information on this bracelet and would love to purchase one for him as a gift. Please feel free to email me.
    Sincrely,
    Dawn Rodriguez

    • admin

      Dawn,
      Thank you very much for posting your interest in the Huey bracelet and sharing a bit about your husband’s experience. Recently, we have made a few bracelets as gifts for vets who have had theirs lost or stolen. They represent experiences that fewer and fewer people can share, while only those who share them can understand. Thanks to your husband for his service. I will reply to you personally with details about the bracelets. We currently have a small amount of both the silver and black chains.

      Respectfully,
      Travis

  17. dennis m osborne

    enjoyed article and video on tail rotor chain very much-
    i have been looking for a replacement for my original which was stolen when i was hospitalized at VA hospital–i had been wearing my original chain since 1968–i was a helicopter crewchief with the 1st cav div in vietnam from 1967-1968—my helicopter was a uh1d-tail #563-of the b co 229th avn bn assaualt helicopter unit-
    when i went into the va hospital the bracelet was cut from my wrist and placed with my belongings–when i was released my belongings could not be found–
    totally ruined my day–been looking for a replacement piece since–

    • admin

      Jim, at the moment we have both black (high strength steel) and silver (stainless steel) chains that have been authenticated and include documentation. They are increasingly rare, so we can’t be sure there will be a supply once these have been sold. I will reply personally with pricing details, as this varies greatly depending on the source. Read below for more details, and thank you for both your service to our country and your inquiry into the bracelets.

  18. Aaron

    My father gave me one of these bracelets he made in Vietnam. His and my bracelet has been lost for a long time. Can I get a price for this item. Thank you for your time.

    • admin

      Aaron, as with other posts, I will respond privately with pricing. But, we do have some chains available. At the same time, there is LOTS of interest. So, I can’t say we will have chain for long.

  19. Ken Stambaugh

    Are you selling them? I was a crew chief in 1978 when the modification work order came out to change out the chains. Lots of other mechanics recognized it for the value but I was young and dumb.

    • admin

      We don’t sell the chains, but we have obtained some chains and have had them authenticated. From them, we are making custom bracelets to those who want one. Supplies are very, very limited and prices vary greatly depending on the source of the chain. I’ll contact you directly to get more details.

  20. Doyle Smith

    I have a 7.5″ chain I brought back from Vietnam in 1965. Can you make a bracelet with my chain? Being an older vet I sure would like one. If not with my chain for any reason, I would like to buy one. Please advise so we can proceed. Thanks to Jerry!!!

    • admin

      Doyle, thanks for a great question that has been coming up a lot, lately. I appreciate the opportunity to answer it. We certainly can use your chain to make the bracelet. The most important thing is knowing your wrist size. Measure around your wrist just below the wrist “joint bone.” We generally add 1/2″ to this for the final size. From there, we cut the chain to size and custom manufacture some fittings to join a stainless steel clasp to the chain. Due to the thickness of the chain, we have to modify the clasp in such a way that fixes it, so there is no adjustment option from the clasp. In your case, I recommend sending the chain to us for inspection. We will let you know its condition and proceed from there. Under normal circumstances, we can modify your chain to length, craft fittings, provide and install the clasp for about $150. Remember, that is a rough estimate based on experience that can float up or down. We will give you a firm price when we see the chain.

      I’ll be sending you a private email to work out the details, but I wanted to thank you openly in this format for the good question. We look forward to helping you get the bracelet you certainly deserve!

      Travis

  21. Michael

    My father was a Huey crew chief and survived at least one crash and had a watch band made from the rotor chain. He lost his chain in a car accident years ago and I am trying to find something like your featured item here for him. They are exceedingly hard to find as you stated. I wanted to know if you had anymore of these for sale or if this was a one time custom job.

  22. Don Laurance

    Do you have any bracelets still for sale? Mine was “confiscated” when I left Vietnam as it was considered “government property”. If you do, what is the price?
    Thank You.
    Don Laurance UH1-H crewchief
    RVN 71-72


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