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At memorial site: Veterans dedicate Cobra

Some members of the team that restored a Bell Cobra attack helicopter now on display at the Martin County Veterans Memorial in Fairmont ride in a parade Saturday prior to a dedication ceremony for the helicopter.

FAIRMONT — Veterans who dedicated themselves to service to their country and to restoring a machine that helped them do so celebrated with the public Saturday at the Martin County Veterans Memorial in Fairmont.

All were there along Winnebago Avenue to dedicate a 1966 Bell Cobra attack helicopter. The local Cobra restoration team, led by Tom Wescott, spent thousands of hours and $40,000 to patch it up, all under deadline pressure. Martin County, which owns the memorial site, received the aircraft at no cost because it was a government-to-government transfer. However, the contract required that the piece be on public display within one year, or it had to be returned.

“What an adventure this machine, if it could talk, if it could just tell you everything where it’s been,” said Steve Chase, a Fairmont native and veteran who made the arrangements to bring the helicopter to Fairmont. “Can you imagine what it would say? All the battles it was in. All the lives it saved. Fires it fought. All the rescues of people it made. It’s just amazing.”

The helicopter’s history includes flying in service in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1968 to 1971. Its missions included armed escort, reconnaissance and battle support. When the helicopter was retired, it went into service for the Kern County, Calif., Fire Department.

Saturday’s event included a presidential honor, as Pamela Powers, a Minnesota native and acting deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, brought a proclamation from President Donald Trump. It read, in part:

“In addition to paying tribute to one of the nation’s most historic military assets, the Bell Cobra helicopter 327, today’s ceremony is also an opportunity to honor our military members and their families for their immeasurable sacrifice and valiant service. As commander in chief, I join you and a grateful nation in saluting these patriotic men and women.”

Powers too saluted veterans and made note of how the presence of the Cobra will continue honoring them.

“Cobra 327 is still and silent, but the roar of its rockets, the explosion of its mini gun and the beat of those blades beating the air into submission, as some helicopter pilots describe it, those sounds will echo through the ages,” she said. “And I have little doubt that the Vietnam veterans here today and those who will see this in years to come still hear it.”

Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke likewise brought a proclamation from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, recognizing the Cobra’s service as well as the service of citizen soldiers, sailors and airmen.

“This memorial reminds us of all the veterans who have acted bravely in the face of danger and preserved the American dream,” the governor wrote.

Colonel Chad Smith, a veteran Army aviator, told the crowd that the helicopter being dedicated was not just an average project.

“I sent a picture of [this] aircraft to a lot of Cobra pilots and they told me they have never seen one look as beautiful as that one,” he said.

The dedication ceremony kicked off a day-long celebration that later moved to the Martin County Fairgrounds. It included food, music, speakers and a veteran advocates question-and-answer panel. Antique military vehicles were on display and included a Huey Cobra helicopter.

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