Paul D. Urquhart

Wall of Valor

Captain Paul D. Urquhart

Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry

101st Airborne Division

Vietnam War

On 28 May 1971, CPT Paul D. Urquhart, pilot, and SP5 Stephen Chavira, gunner, comprised the crew of an OH6A helicopter on a visual reconnaissance mission. Their area of operation included the extremely rugged jungle covered mountains between the South Vietnamese/Lao border and the northern most portion of the infamous A Shau Valley, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam. This area also included a primary gateway from the equally notorious Ho Chi Minh Trail into strategic sections of northern South Vietnam. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

The Loach and a UH1A Huey helicopter were operating as a two-aircraft “Hunter” team for a pair of UH1C Huey gunships operating as the “Killer” team conducting a “Hunter-Killer” mission against communist activity in the area. The hunter aircraft were flying at an altitude of approximately 30 feet when one of the killer gunship aircraft commanders saw an enemy rocket propelled grenade (RPG) round strike the Loach. The shell exploded causing the tail boom to bend in half and the helicopter to go out of control. It then exploded into flames, crashed and continued to burn on the top of a small knoll located in the rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 2 miles northeast of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and the same distance southwest of a primary road leading from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This road ran east/west from the border eastward to a point near the northern tip of the A Shau Valley. It then turned south-southeast running along the full length of the east side of the dense jungle covered valley.

The burning wreckage cleared an area about 25 meters around the crash site thus permitting a clear view of the downed aircraft by other aircrews. Witnesses reported seeing no one thrown clear of the wreckage and saw no survivors on the ground after the crash. Because of the extreme hostile threat in the area, no ground search was possible. Likewise, because of the circumstances surrounding this loss, and at the time the visual search conducted by the other aircraft on this mission was terminated, Paul Urquhart and Stephen Chavira were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

On 7 June 1971, another aerial reconnaissance of the crash site and surrounding area was conducted in the hope that some trace of CPT Urquhart and SP5 Chavira could be found. Unfortunately, no sign of survivors or the bodies of the two missing crewmen were seen from the air. Continuous enemy activity in the area once again prevented a ground team from being inserted into the crash site to investigate it more thoroughly.

Outside his Chartiers Township home flies a flag bearing the initials POW/MIA. Decals on his car windows carry the same message.

Around his right wrist, he wears a metal bracelet inscribed with a name, “Paul D. Urquhart,” and date, “May 28, 1971.”

Charles Urquhart is not about to leave memories of his son behind. “I have so many files on Paul that it takes up a ton of space,” he said. And that doesn’t even count the information posted on any number of Internet sites relating the story of U.S. Army Capt. Paul Urquhart of McMurray, whose helicopter crashed in Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam, on Memorial Day 1971, and whose name still appears on the military rolls as missing in action. “There are some interesting things on the Web, but I’m not sure where some of them came from,” his father said. He’s tried to find out, but has received some curiously closed-lipped responses. Some sites post messages along the lines of: “The sponsors of this memorial wish to remain anonymous.” One who doesn’t is Robert Donnan of Peters Township, who has set up a page on his company’s Web site dedicated to Urquhart and providing information about today’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day observance. Donnan, a Vietnam veteran, also has been spearheading efforts to memorialize Tom Shipe, a Peters Township High School graduate who was killed in action in 1969. Donnan said he learned about Urquhart while searching for the names of local servicemen inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Urquhart is listed on Panel 3W, Row 57. His brother, James Urquhart of Kendall, N.Y., also found the name when he visited the wall. “It was kind of tough,” he recalled of the experience. “But it was worth it.”

He remembers his brother as a dedicated man with aspirations of a military career, and who was doing very well at it. “He was not too far from becoming a major, just a couple of months,” he said. “And that was probably going to be the end of his flying over there.” His brother, who was on his second tour of duty in 1971, wrote a letter to their father the day before the accident, looking forward to other duties. “It said it would probably be the last mission he flew,” Charles Urquhart said.

On May 28, 1971, Capt. Paul Urquhart of Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division, piloted an OH6A Loach helicopter on a visual reconnaissance mission near South Vietnam’s border with Laos. With him was gunner Stephen Chavira. Their craft was part of a team of helicopters operating in an area near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the communist supply route. They were flying at an altitude of about 30 feet when one of the other aircraft commanders saw an enemy rocket-propelled grenade strike Urquhart’s helicopter. The shell exploded, causing the tail boom to bend in half and the helicopter to go out of control. It then exploded into flames, crashed and continued to burn on top of a small knoll in the jungle-covered mountains. Witnesses reported seeing no one thrown clear of the wreckage and saw no survivors on the ground. Enemy presence prevented a search of the area until 10 days later, and that was limited to aerial reconnaissance, as safety considerations could not permit a ground search. To this day, Urquhart and Chavira are listed as missing in action. And according to Dominic DeFranco of Peters Township, chairman of the Veterans of Foreign War’s state POW/MIA committee, Urquhart is the only Vietnam-era MIA from Washington County. Born in 1946, Paul Urquhart attended high school in Michigan and moved with his family to Western Pennsylvania when his father got a job in the Pittsburgh area. After graduating from Washington & Jefferson College, he did a tour of duty in Vietnam, then served stateside as an instructor at various Army bases until volunteering for his second tour. His interests apparently took after those of his father, who has been in aviation for more than 60 years.

“Of course, he liked flying,” James Urquhart said. “He had his pilot’s license before he went into the service.” James always got along well with his brother and anticipated him returning home from Vietnam. “We were looking forward to a lot of good times,” he said. “But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

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VFW Post 764 McMurray PA

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