Former Soldiers from B Troop, 7th Squadron, 1st Air Cavalry Squadron visited Gowen Field Oct. 21 to see a familiar piece of their history: the AH-1 Cobra that several of them flew in Vietnam, which now sits outside the Idaho Military Division’s headquarters building.
The retired Soldiers and veterans were in Boise to attend the squadron’s annual reunion, but for the small group, seeing the Cobra was the highlight of the weekend for the former pilots and crewmembers who traveled from across the country to attend.
“Seeing it put a little lump in my throat,” said Lyle Borders, who served in Vietnam as a warrant officer and scout pilot. “We saw some of the most intense combat of the Vietnam War.”
The troop was in Vietnam from 1971-72. The unit was based out of Vinh Long before being reassigned to Quang Tri, where the troop supported South Vietnam’s offensive campaign in the southeastern portion of Laos. During the operation, the U.S. Army lost 26 Cobras and more than 150 additional helicopters were damaged.
At least four members of the seven-person group flew the Cobra, tail number 0-15496, including Warrant Officer 1 Marvin Beck, Jr., who was primarily assigned to the helicopter. On March 24, 1971, he was credited with destroying one enemy tank and heavily damaging two more. The attack is believed to have been the first time a Cobra destroyed an enemy tank during the conflict.
Borders flew several missions in the Cobra as its scout pilot. He lost his leg after being hit by enemy fire in another helicopter.
Dayne Smith, who retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel, served in Vietnam as a first lieutenant. He last flew the Cobra on a mission to rescue two Vietnamese prisoners of war. The helicopter is the third helicopter he has tracked down and visited in the United States.
The Idaho National Guard obtained the helicopter in 2001 as an historical artifact. Its former markings from the time it spent at war can still be seen up close. Since Vietnam, the helicopter was modernized to the AH-1F model, which added a zero to its tail number, which has otherwise remained the same since B Troop flew it.
The Army retired the Cobra in 2001 as it transitioned to the AH-64 Apache. The Marines flew the Ah-1W SuperCobra until 2020.