Helicopter soars over Treynor thanks to American Legion
A Huey helicopter is permanently airborne in Treynor.
The Treynor American Legion, Post 725, helped bring the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter – commonly referred to as a “Huey” – to town thanks in large part to the work of longtime member and current post Finance Director Ron Kerber.
“I always wondered how the legion could have something to connect with the military, as far as a static display,” Kerber said. “I took the project under my wing to make it happen.”
The inspiration continued with a trip to the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. The arsenal museum on Arsenal Island on the Mississippi River had “every piece of equipment the military has made, to service all the different branches of the military. All the rifles we get for ceremonies. The big guns are built there. Some jeeps, some equipment.”
Kerber made requests through American Legion national organization and military organizations for an item - maybe a big gun or a ship anchor or a wheel, Kerber said.
“But a helicopter was always on my mind,” he said.
He ran into obstacles during the three-year journey. He thought they’d found one through an auction of helicopters for sale out of the Sanford Airport in Florida, but “it was a stripped down shell.”
Kerber eventually found a man selling a former Texas National Guard helicopter in Lansing, Illinois. The American Legion made the purchase through Midwest Aerospace Limited, and the owner rebuilt some of the components and made repairs – including patching bullet holes sustained during combat missions – in advance of sending the Huey to Treynor.
“It’s what we wanted, it’s what we were looking for,” Kerber said.
Hueys can go for around $65,000, but the legion was able to get a price of around a third of that.
The chopper was built in 1964 by Bell Helicopters and sold to the Army in 1965, Kerber said, and was sent to Vietnam right away. Soldiers flew the helicopter on missions during the Vietnam War for four years.
Kerber said about 18,000 of the helicopter models were sent to the war, with 3,500 shot down. Around 1,800 are still in operation today.
Kerber and the legion worked with the Treynor City Council to make sure placement on the Community Center grounds would work. Kerber said Mayor Tom Lewis asked him if they could get a B-52 bomber.
“I told him ‘I don’t know if we have enough room for that,’” Kerber said with a laugh.
The helicopter is missing an engine – would’ve made it too heavy to display, Kerber said – but with an engine and a tune-up the bird could fly again. A number of volunteers and businesses came together to help get the chopper display up, including Reid Anderson, Wes Casson, Billy Drake, Accent Lighting, Arrow Towing and others.
“A lot of hands stepped up to the plate to make this happen,” he said.
Kerber said legion leaders voted unanimously to approve the purchase. The post coffers include a bequeathal from a former member and revenue from the post’s bar. The post purchased the sign for the community center and has made contributions to food pantries, benefits for people in need, scholarships and lunch money assistance for students and to teachers to help with projects, among many donations.
Kerber served in the U.S. Navy from 1967-1970, fighting in Vietnam. He grew up in rural Pottawattamie County between Treynor and Underwood and has farmed his entire life. He’s been a member of the Treynor American Legion for 30 years.
“I was a Navy guy, and here I am getting us a helicopter,” he said.
As part of the Treynor Days celebration on June 29, the American Legion will honor 100 years of the legion and have a dedication for the helicopter display. Among the attendees and speakers are 82nd Airborne Hall of Fame member Brig. Gen. Dennis Kerr (retired) of Warwick, N.Y. and TS Banking Group Chairman of the Board Mick Guttau of Treynor, who flew Cobra helicopter missions during the Vietnam War.
Kerr’s career in the military earned him two Distinguished Service medals, a Silver Star and a bevy of other honors.
“He is, bar-none, the best commissioned officer I ever served with,” Guttau said of Kerr.
The helicopter took flight in Treynor in April. Kerber said the local post is thrilled to have it on display in time for the celebration of 100 years of the American Legion.
“It puts Treynor on the map, it’s an eye catcher, that’s for sure. How many other towns do you know that have these?” he said. “It gives us recognition, shows who we are.”
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