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Flagstaff veterans make repairs to Vietnam War era helicopter

Posted at 7:42 PM, Nov 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-13 21:42:54-05

A group of veterans in northern Arizona are breathing new life into an old war hero. Getting down and dirty to refurbish one of the Vietnam wars most revered choppers. 

“It’s one of us, it got us home,” said 5th Class Specialist Lannie VanTassel, 

“It’s like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time,” said 5th Class Specialist Steve Wolfenbarger. 

For this group of Vietnam Veterans, it’s a triage of love for a machine that signaled hope to so many. 

“Mainly just dressing it up, we’re gonna redo the inside,” said VanTassel. 

For years, a Huey Helicopter has sat inside the gates of Camp Navajo in Flagstaff. It’s body brittle from battle both overseas and from the harsh winters of northern Arizona. 

“It’s been a lot of years, I have to stop and think about what I’m doing now,” said VanTessel as he removed parts. 

On this day, the old UH1-H is getting a facelift from those who put their lives in her hands. 

Both Wolfenbarger and VanTassel flew in the Huey during the Vietnam War. Their lives saved on multiple occasion thanks to the acrobatic chopper. 

The rhythmic thumping of its hay day a sound that promised rescue to injured or trapped troops of the Vietnam War. 

“We knew when we heard the 'wop wop' of the blades, we had help on the way,” said Wolfenbarger. 

Now it’s on the way again. With these vets ripping out the interior, checking electronics, seats, and refurbishing the old bird to new glory. 

The chopper is from the Phoenix Squadron, it’s final mission flown nearly fifty years ago as it rescued four soldiers under heavy fire before limping back to base. It was thought that only two choppers remained from that squadron across the US, that is until VanTressel discovered the third sitting unassumingly at Camp Navajo.

“They’ve got the battery and few other components out, radios and such but for the most part seems like it’s in pretty good shape,” said VanTessel. 

And they hope to keep it that way. Setting up a GoFundMe to help pay for it. 

“The biggest thing like I said is to build a structure over this to protect it from the snow and the rain,” said VanTessel. 

What was once a forgotten relic, will soon have a new mission as a permanent fixture for those who sacrificed everything and for us to remember them. 

“Hopefully it’s something that even the grandkids will want to see,” said Wolfenbarger. 

If you would like to donate to the project, click here