Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Sid Salter: Huddleston's Magnificent Life & Consequential Work Built on Desire to Serve

Farm boy. High school and college student. Soldier. Aviator. War hero. Military flight instructor. Veterinarian. University faculty member. Sheriff’s deputy. Criminal investigator. State legislator. Christian. Husband. Father and grandfather. Friend. MSU Bulldog.

Although Dr. Elton Mac Huddleston was known throughout his productive life by many titles of respect and served in many important roles, I knew a quiet, dignified man with a true heart for serving others. At his homegoing service in late August at West Heights Baptist Church in this busy North Mississippi county seat, hundreds gathered to remember.

Mac, not a large man, cast a powerful figure wherever he went and in whatever role he served. People respected him and enjoyed his company. There was an innate goodness in him, and he had old-school manners. He enjoyed a good laugh and telling or hearing a story. He was an exemplary listener.

Born in 1943, Mac was raised by his grandparents on a Holmes County farm. He graduated from Durant High School and Mississippi State University, where he was an accounting major and a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. 

We went on to serve as a veterinarian and MSU College of Veterinary Medicine faculty member, a Pontotoc County deputy sheriff and investigator, and a distinguished member of the Mississippi Legislature. But the rest of Mac’s story is contained in his military service.

Commissioned at State as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in field artillery, Mac later served his country as an Army Aviator flying Bell Iroquois UH-1 “Huey” helicopters in the dangerous Mekong Delta in Vietnam as part of the “River Raiders.”. The U.S. Navy (the “Brown Water Navy”) operated “Tango” boats - armored troop carriers that transported U.S. Army troops to and from battle zones in the river systems that led to the China Sea.

Some 7,000 Hueys were procured for use by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War providing cargo transport, general support, ground attack and air assault, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and electronic warfare. Of those 7,000 helicopters, over 3,000 were lost in those operations. It was deadly dangerous work.

In Vietnam, the Viet Cong controlled the Mekong Delta and made it the primary highway for food and supplies for their forces. From their Mekong occupation, they extorted “taxes” and took what they wanted. They also rained misery on U.S. and South Vietnamese forces.

Refueling the helicopters was a mission-critical problem when wounded soldiers were often the cargo. The Navy rigged special Tango boats with a fuel bladder and small landing pads where Army Aviators could land the Hueys for refueling or troop transfers. The landing craft were 56 feet long and 17.5 feet wide and the landing pad was a fraction of that. It was like landing a helicopter on a mattress. 

The Tango boats usually had a crew of seven and could carry 40 combat infantrymen.  The vessel was armed with machine guns, a 20mm. cannon, and Mk18 grenade launchers.

Years after his Vietnam War service, Huddleston was touring the Mississippi Armed Services Museum at Camp Shelby in south Mississippi in 2009 and noticed an enlarged photo of a Huey landing on a Tango Boat. Huddleston realized that the photo wasn’t merely of a Huey landing, it was his Huey landing. He was piloting the helicopter.

The photo came to the museum through a University of Southern Mississippi collection. They received the photo from one of Huddleston’s fellow “River Raiders” living in Olympia, Washington. The museum dedicated a Huey helicopter display to Huddleston along with a photo mural of the landing that identified Huddleston as the aviator.

When asked about his service by the media, Huddleston would not accept the title of “hero” and said: “I’m just an American fighting man who took the oath of office that says I swear or affirm to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

The record contradicts that humility. Mac won the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He saved countless lives in medical evac and in providing an escape for combat soldiers under fire. He was a hero in my book, and I’ve heard that same sentiment from all who knew him or have heard his peculiarly Mississippi story.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! We owe a lot to that generation. My dad was a submariner. He said that because he wasn’t a big guy, he was assigned to ride outside the submarine and when the submarine “dived, he would jump while grabbing the cover of the port hole and twist it tight while falling into the sub.
Crazy just to think about the things they were expected to do.

Anonymous said...

Well said! I was lucky to serve on the legislature with him! First class!

Anonymous said...

Great article about a great man. That said, Sid, allow me to correct you on something. You state that he "won" the Bronze Star... Military medals are earned and then awarded. They are not won. It is not a contest.

Anonymous said...

Representative Huddleston was always quiet the Gentleman in the Legislature, much Respect & Ms's loss.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS