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Vietnam chopper provides visual cue of story on stage

Jerry Seago, who was a chief warrant officer, and Larry Pigg, who retired as a captain, pose with a Vietnam War-era Cayuse observer helicopter at Flat Rock Playhouse. Jerry Seago, who was a chief warrant officer, and Larry Pigg, who retired as a captain, pose with a Vietnam War-era Cayuse observer helicopter at Flat Rock Playhouse.

When a photographer asked Jerry Seago and Larry Pigg to smile like they'd made it home from Vietnam, they kept their somber looks and gazed back at the lens.


Vietnam is only funny if you didn't go.
The snapshot in time of the two combat veteran helicopter pilots was a small but meaningful reminder of the balancing act Flat Rock Playhouse marketers are performing in the runup to "Miss Saigon." They're managing expectations and gently warning about "adult" content while also making a very public effort to honor the mlilitary veterans who lived through the horror searingly depicted on stage.
The Playhouse is offering Vietnam veterans half price tickets to the first four performances of "Miss Saigon," a love story between an American GI and a Vietnamese woman set during the fall of Saigon 41 years ago.

Seago and Pigg, members of the North Carolina Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, worked in a steady drizzle Saturday to unload a Vietnam vintage helicopter and situate it on the Rock. The chopper will be displayed during the run of "Miss Saigon," a life-sized visual cue outside the Mainstage hall.
Larry Pigg straps down a rotor on the Cayuse Observer Helicopter.Larry Pigg straps down a rotor on the Cayuse Observer Helicopter.Pigg, who grew up in California and retired to Hendersonville after a career in finance, enlisted in the Army in 1966 and served combat tours in Vietnam in 1969-70 and '71-72. He flew helicopters for both the First Infantry and the 343rd Attack Helicopter unit. He earned his Purple Heart when a North Vietnamese Army high-speed machine gun shot a bullet through his foot while he flew a Charlie-model helicopter.
"I think it will be an excellent thing because it's so far away — 40 years ago," he said when asked what he thought of the exhibit. "This is a helicopter that flew in Vietnam."
Lightweight, fast, agile and quiet, the OH-6 observer helicopter debuted in 1966 and was used widely in Vietnam. The one that was trucked to Flat Rock on Saturday was a Cayuse, an Indian name. Other observers were nicknamed Sioux, Raven and Cobra.
Seago traveled from his home in Hillsborough to help set up the display. He and Pigg folded out and anchored the chopper's four rotors.
"All our people are pilots and we certify that we flew helicopters in Vietnam," Seago, who served in the Army's First Aviation Brigade at Pluke, said of the association. Jerry SeagoJerry Seago"Between me and Larry, we probably have 2,000 combat hours."
Vietnam veterans who attend the show will be invited to sign a book with their name, base and hometown when they enlisted. They'll be recognized before each show.
Vietnam veterans probably don't need to be reminded that war is hell but for everyone else the Playhouse is signaling that this ain't "Mary Poppins" or even "Good Morning, Vietnam."

"It's an honest portrayal of war, both the emotions and rigors of war, with adult content," said Mark Marvell, the theater's marketing director. "Come on, it's set in a brothel in Vietnam."
Has skin, too. The opening scene features the brothel talent in Sixties vintage bikinis.

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"Miss Saigon" opens Thursday and runs through Aug. 24. Performances are 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Tickets ($40) can be purchased by calling the Playhouse box office at 828-693-0731 or at www.flatrockplayhouse.org.