Orville Curtis Rogers, Jr. was born in 1945 in Bakersfield, California. Curtis was a graduate of Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High School and Baylor University. He was assigned to 1st Marine Air Wing, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, nicknamed the Thunder Chickens. 1LT Rogers had been in Vietnam since June 5, 1970.
On November 18, 1970, roughly halfway through his one year tour, in the Quế Sơn Mountains in Quảng Nam Province, Republic of Vietnam, roughly 22 miles south of Da Nang, 1LT Rogers’ aircraft impacted with a mountain under conditions of heavy fog and dense clouds. Earlier, his flight had successfully extracted two of three teams, transported them to the landing zone at Camp Reasoner and had returned for the third team to extract them with a SPIE rigging. The rigging was required because the ground cover was too dense to allow for any other type of pickup. The teams requested extraction after a medic had broken a leg in a creek bed and two other Marines were said to be suffering from high fever. The CH-46D had been escorted by two Huey (Bell UH-1 Iroquois) gunships. A radioman recalled hearing traffic that one of the escort gunships had reported losing sight of the CH-46D, no doubt due to the crash. Upon impact with the mountain, the aircraft (UH-46 tail number 154837) was badly damaged, though it was recovered and returned to the camp along with the remains of the deceased. At the time of the crash, there were were 15 people aboard the aircraft, the ten passengers who were all members of the 1st Recon Battalion along with the five rescue helicopter crewmen. There were no survivors. [Source: popasmoke.com]
1LT Rogers was flying a CH-46D. Per Naval History Heritage and Command, the aircraft is described as a Boeing Vertol Sea Knight, one of the first tandem rotor helicopter models used by the Marines. The first of the CH-46 aircraft were delivered to the U. S. Marine Corps in 1964. The last official flight of a CH-46 in Vietnam was the well known mission to extract personnel from the roof United States Embassy in Saigon. The CH-46 was continuously being modified and updated but remained in service for the Marine Corps until after 2000 in the Middle East.
Another Texan, CPL Fernando Villasana was a member of the Recon team. Per an article in the El Paso Times, CPL Villasana was from El Paso and was born November 22, 1950. He had graduated in 1969 from El Paso Jefferson High School. Relatives said that CPL Villasana had always wanted to be a Marine and he enlisted at a Marine recruitment center on May 28, 1969. He arrived in Vietnam on January 11, 1970 and was assigned to Bravo Company of the 1st Recon Battalion, First Marine Division.
When the crash occurred, CPL Villasana was four days from his 20th birthday. He was remembered by his fellow Marines as being a quiet guy, slender and unassuming, who despite his young age had a calming influence on those who knew him. CPL Villasana would write home every week. His nickname was “Nano.”
CPL Villasana, 1LT Rogers and the rest of the Marines who lost their lives in that incident are honored on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. Their names appear on panel 06W. 1ST Lt Rogers is interred at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas. CPL Villasana is interred at Ft. Bliss National Cemetery. As one relative said of this collection of individuals, “May God Bless every family, the Marines and God Bless the USA.”
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