Pilot to presidents visits local reunion

July 27, 2004|EMILY BURTON

Those on hand for Saturday's annual Hulett family reunion brushed elbows with three presidential administrations, the Vietnam war and quite possibly the best peach cobbler in the world. This year's guests of honor, Barney and Libby Hulett of Fredericksburg Texas, brought with them more than just great Texas peaches.

Barney Hulett is better known in Washington as a former White House pilot and personal friend to President Lyndon B. Johnson and the former First Lady. His wife, Libby, was curator at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Park for 24 years and still maintains a close friendship with Lady Bird.

The Huletts attended the reunion after a chance meeting with Stanford residents Jess and Angela Correll when the Correll family toured the L.B.J. ranch.

"We had five teenagers on spring break, in Texas, and none of them had heard of Lyndon Johnson, so we were trying to remedy that," said Angela Correll.


While touring the souvenir store, the couple noticed Barney Hulett's memoirs, "Twenty Bosses", and that his name was spelled exactly as that of their relatives.

Jess Correll bought the book, read it that night and then found the Hulett's number in the phone book. "I just called them up, and asked if I could come over (for an autograph), and Libby was crazy enough to say yes," he said with a wide grin.

Since then, the friendship has flourished through calls and letters. "It felt like we knew them forever," said Libby Hulett.

After a two-day drive, the Huletts arrived at the gathering, though still not sure if they were actually related to anyone there. "That's something we ought to look up," said Barney. But until recently, Hulett and his wife have had little time for family research. As an Army veteran of Vietnam, Barney served for 21 years with the helicopter support unit of the White House. He flew Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson around the world. After President Johnson left office, Hulett served as his personal pilot for another 21 years at the L.B.J. ranch.

"When he was in Washington, he would go there and they called it the Texas White House," said Libby of the president's home. "When Ms. Johnson first saw it, she said it looked like an old haunted house, cause (president Johnson's) widowed aunt had lived there," and the house had become run down. A year later, the house was resplendent.

Johnsons were always close friends

No matter who was at the Texas White House, even the Rockefellers, said Libby, the Johnsons were always close friends to their family. "It didn't make a difference who was there, they treated us just the same," she said. "...No one realizes what a great sense of humor (President Johnson) had, he loved to tease."

Barney's flights with the President ranged from diplomatic missions oversees - "We were like a bunch of gypsies, we were off somewhere in the world," said Hulett - to the President's last flight on Jan. 22, 1973. After L.B.J.'s deadly heart attack, Hulett flew the former president to the hospital before returning to talk with Lady Bird.

His eyes still get glassy when he discusses it. "It was a sad day," he said simply.

Still companions with Lady Bird, now 92, the Huletts use their retirement to travel around the country visiting their children and grandchildren. They have also visited Europe, Greece, Turkey and the area where Barney Hulett was stationed in Vietnam.

But the Texas couple say they still hold Kentucky close to their hearts. While stationed as a paratrooper at Fort Campbell, Barney met his wife of 54 years over the Fourth of July holiday.

"We knew each other about 10 days at the most, and then got married right after that," said Barney. Libby still smiles and giggles about it. "I wouldn't change a thing," Barney said. Libby added, "We've been very blessed. Life is sweet, but it's what you make of it."

Both say they are thinking of coming back to the reunion next year, and the Correll's are encouraging it. Angela Correll said, "We don't know if Barney is a Hulett out of our line, but we're certainly claiming him, and Libby, too."

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