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Legion dedicates helicopter to American hero

American Legion Post 108 members Roy Bliss (left) and Jim Parkhurst (center) chat with U.S. Army Reserve Col. Keith Sousa. (click for larger version)
August 25, 2010 - A crowd of veterans, military personnel, civilians and family members gathered Saturday afternoon at Oxford American Legion Post 108 to dedicate a monument to a hero and honor the men who created it.

"This is a beautiful day for me," said Legion member Roy Bliss, of Brandon, who spent countless hours restoring the Bell AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter that sits outside Post 108, located at 130 E. Drahner Rd.

The helicopter was dedicated to the memory of 69-year-old Delbert Lee Waugh, a highly decorated U.S Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who was tragically killed in October 2008 when the Air Angels medical helicopter he was piloting crashed in Aurora, Illinois.

Waugh, the infant patient he was transporting to a hospital in Chicago and two others aboard were all killed.

Waugh's life and career in the Army were recounted by Col. Keith Sousa, of the 645th Regional Support Group based in Southfield, who served as guest speaker at the dedication ceremony.

Shot down seven times, Waugh flew Cobras and Hueys during the Vietnam War. He provided air support to ground troops, covered other aircraft during operations and flew rescue missions.

During one mission, despite being shot through the cheek, Waugh managed to land his damaged chopper and escape. He packed his wound with mud and hid in a rice paddy until the Viet Cong left the area. He walked for days until he was rescued by American forces.

As a result of his bravery and dedication, Waugh earned a total of 25 decorations and badges, including two Purple Hearts. They're all listed on a special plaque in front of the helicopter.

Following his active military service, Waugh remained in the U.S. Army Reserves where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and continued to fly. He became commanding officer of all Reserve Army Aviation in Indiana and Michigan. He served as an Army Aviator and Flight Instructor for more than 25 years and accumulated more than 7,000 flight hours.

The AH-1G Cobra helicopter dedicated to Waugh was very symbolic not only because he flew one, but also because this model played a critical role in America's Vietnam War effort from 1967-73. These attack choppers racked up more than 1 million operational hours in southeast Asia.

Post 108's helicopter arrived here in November 2008 from the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Southfield. No one's sure if it ever saw any combat in Vietnam.

Sousa, who helped Post 108 obtain its chopper, indicated that when the helicopter was shipped to Oxford "it was in pretty bad shape."

"It hadn't had anybody pay attention to it in a long time," the colonel said.

But thanks to the efforts of Bliss, fellow Legion member Jim Parkhurst and many others, the chopper appears as though it could take off at any moment.

"This doesn't even look like the same aircraft that left Southfield," Sousa told the crowd. "You are a very dedicated man, Mr. Bliss."

Bliss manufactured all the chopper's rockets, constructed the nose cone and sealed all of the openings.

"It's been a long, hard struggle, but it was all worth it," he told this reporter. "She's a beautiful piece of machinery in my book."

Bliss admitted he couldn't have done it alone.

"I don't deserve all the credit. Jim (Parkhurst) has been my partner on this thing. He's worked his tail off," Bliss said. "I also want to thank all the other guys who pitched in and helped on this. It was very much appreciated."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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