On a mission: Volunteers repaint Vietnam-era military helicopter

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News (From left): Footville American Legion Devins-Teehan-McGuire Post #237's former commander and Vietnam-era veteran Steve Sarow and former commander and Vietnam-era veteran Dennis Curry stand in front of the post's 1968 Cobra helicopter Tuesday. The beloved helicopter has recently been repainted thanks to a crew of dedicated volunteers with the post. 

FOOTVILLE - Footville American Legion Devins-Teehan-McGuire Post #237's 1968 AH-1 Cobra helicopter is sporting a new paint job.

Although the Vietnam-era warbird has been a popular and beloved tribute to military personnel in Footville since its arrival in October of 2002, its paint had lost its lustre. Over a period of two months, a crew of post volunteers carefully hand painted the helicopter in two coats, according to former Commander and Vietnam-era veteran Steve Sarow and former Commander and Vietnam-era veteran Dennis Curry.

"Service Officer John McGuire acquired the paint to use and Commander John Harnack helped spearhead the initiative along with the crew," Sarow said. "Helicopter Specialities president and owner Jim Freeman helped select the correct paint color."

This summer Sarow said the paint crew will return to stencil some of the numbers on the historic aircraft. The Cobra is expected to be an impressive tribute this spring when fully repainted and amidst a greener landscape. The Cobra is illuminated from dusk until dawn at its spot at 406 Old Highway 11.

"It represents the power of our military to protect our country," Sarow said.

The Cobra has always occupied a special place in the hearts of those at the post. Members had been dreaming for years of a proper tribute to military personnel before Sarow along with former Adjutant Marc Johnson pioneered a joint effort to bring it to Footville.

The warbird finally arrived in Footville in 2002, after extensive paperwork was filled out and given an extra push through bureaucracy by then-Congressman Paul Ryan.

Sarow and Curry recalled it being a momentous day when the Cobra finally arrived at the Rock County Airport back in 2002. Richard Woodstock Trucking Inc. along with A&H Trucking hauled the Cobra to its home at the legion thanks to a Rock County Sheriff's Office escort. T&K Helgeson Crane Service workers lifted the pieces in and out of the trucks. Former Commander Ron Kimball had worked on Cobras in Vietnam, and was able to lend his valuable expertise when erecting the tribute. The Cobra was a two-set, twin-engine attack helicopter capable of land- and sea-based operations, flying at speeds of over 200 mph.

Over the years the helicopter, as well as the legion, has been well cared for with plenty of donations and support.

"There's honor in seeing military equipment taken care of to protect our country," Sarow said. "Our military is one of the best in the world and I feel that if we continue to maintain our military presence in the world it's a safer place."

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