WASHINGTON (AP) – Jim Newman, an Army captain during the Vietnam War, stared at the Bell UH-1 Huey Helicopter. “I left a lot of blood and part of my leg in that Huey,” he said.

Nearly four decades after escaping death, Newman was among dozens of veterans at a dedication ceremony Wednesday for a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit that pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of the nation’s battle-worn men and women.

The exhibit, which opens today (Veterans Day), includes more than 800 artifacts, from the 18th-century’s French and Indian War to the current global fight against terrorism and the conflict in Iraq.

The war relics on display include the sword George Washington wore while reviewing troops before the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 and Colin Powell’s Army fatigues from Operation Desert Storm.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, a Vietnam veteran who won the Bronze Star for valor, helped dedicate the exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“While the uniforms and weaponry of war have changed over the years, the people and the soldiers of this great republic have not,” Ridge said.

“Out of the difficulties of battle, out of the centuries of conflict and even peace, we have learned that freedom is not a given. Here in the United States of America, freedom is a bugle call, hundreds of years old.”

An .80 caliber British Tower musket recovered from a dead British soldier during the Battle of Bennington in 1777 and a U.S. M16A1 automatic rifle used by soldiers and Marines during Vietnam are among the many weapons on view. Other items include MIA bracelets, a Silver Star awarded to a Marine during the Persian Gulf War and a piece of the twisted steel from the World Trade Center.

The largest artifact in “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit is the restored Huey that Newman flew. The bullet holes from that September day in 1966 are no longer visible, but the memories are still fresh.

“I was about 20 feet off the ground. We had wounded in the back seat and I had a new pilot with me,” Newman recalled. Suddenly, gunfire from Viet Cong AK-47s tore into the chopper, hitting Newman in the left leg and knocking his feet off the pedals.

Seated right behind him was Ed Walsh, the Huey’s crew chief. “We thought we were all going to die,” said Walsh, who joined Newman at the exhibit dedication.

The co-pilot was able to get control of the Huey and Newman eventually returned to Vietnam for a second tour. “I never flew in the left seat again,” he said. “I flew 1,200 hours in my second tour and never got in that left seat. And I never will get in that left seat.”

While there are many war artifacts for visitors to marvel at, there are also firsthand audio and video accounts.

A Union soldier shares his disgust over prejudice against black soldiers in his unit during the Civil War. A nurse in a shock trauma unit during Vietnam talks about saving the life of a baby who was found crying in the arms of her dead mother. Their village had been wiped out by the Viet Cong.

“We hope that as people visit the exhibition, they will consider how wars have changed the nation, shaped American society and individually touched them and their families,” said David Allison, the project director.

On the Net:

National Museum of American History: http://americanhistory.si.edu

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