In service of his memory
BY HARRY FUNK
THE OBSERVER REPORTER
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 Captain 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 28 May 1971, Captain 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 and 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.”
Request for Peters Township to Fly the POW-MIA Flag Every Day
On Memorial Day 2003, the Peters Township War Memorial, which is just outside Council Chambers, was rededicated with the addition of eleven name plaques. During that same ceremony, the POW-MIA Flag began flying to honor McMurray’s favorite son Paul Urquhart. Captain Urquhart’s helicopter was shot down on Memorial Day 1971 and he is still listed as Missing in Action, along with 88,000 other U.S. soldiers.
Tomorrow, September 14, 2004, marks National POW-MIA Recognition Day. The POW-MIA flag is scheduled to fly tomorrow on the flagpole above Peters Township Council Chambers as it does this day, and 5 other holidays each year. The only thing is that these soldiers aren’t just missing 6 days each year, they’re missing 365 days a year. Therefore, I feel it’s time for Peters Township to fly the flag every day of the year. Tonight, I’m requesting a favorable vote from Council on this issue, that once the POW-MIA Flag begins flying tomorrow, it remains flying from that day forward.
This simple action on your part sends a very important message to our soldiers, our veterans, our community and the public at large – that message being, that if you go to war on our behalf, and become a prisoner of war or missing in action, we will not forget you. And if like Paul Urquhart you volunteered to go to Vietnam for a second tour of duty, when you didn’t have to go, your hometown of McMurray will not forget you.
Council members, I urge you to vote tonight to fly the POW-MIA flag every day of the year. It’s a small but important token of this community’s appreciation for the ongoing sacrifice made by these soldiers, as well as their families who suffer the terrible fate of not knowing where their loved ones are.
As the message on the POW-MIA Flag clearly states, “You Are Not Forgotten.”
By Harry Funk
4 September 2019
On Memorial Day 1971, U.S. Army Capt. Paul Urquhart was piloting a helicopter that was hit by a shell and crashed in jungle-covered mountains near the Vietnam-Laos border.
“He’s MIA, Missing In Action, but they’ve added the designation BNR, Body Not Recovered,” Peters Township resident Bob Donnan said. “They know where he went down, but it’s really rugged terrain.”
Donnan, who also served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, has advocated for several efforts going back nearly two decades to help memorialize Urquhart. The latest is part of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 682’s MIA Memorial Street Sign Project, which originated in Beaver County.
The leaders of the initiative want to honor Urquhart, who was living in Peters at the time he began his second tour of duty in Vietnam, and Donnan helped secure a spot on township council’s Sept. 9 agenda to discuss the possibility.
“What their project involves is putting commemorative signs on the street signs of where the veteran lived when he joined the service for the Vietnam War,” he said. “With Paul Urquhart, that happens to be Old Oak Road.”
The MIA placard would be placed above a sign at one of Old Oak’s intersections, listing the name, rank and branch of service, at no charge to the township.
Chapter 862 also is looking to memorialize U.S. Air Force First Lt. James McEwen of Washington, who is listed as missing in action after his aircraft crashed Oct. 22, 1965.
U.S. Navy veteran Bob Weismantle, a chapter member who lives in Conway, launched the project to honor the four Beaver County residents who went missing in action during the Vietnam War. The first sign was placed at West Wade and Wimpole streets in Hopewell Township to honor Navy Commander Doyle Lynn.
Donnan learned about the project through a referral from Peters Township Public Library, where some of those involved were doing research on Urquhart and McEwen.
“I’m just trying to give them all the support I can,” he said.
His support on behalf of Urquhart has resulted in honors including representation on the Wall of Valor at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 764 in Peters and the memorial plaque at the township municipal building, plus a POW-MIA flag flying there with the Stars and Stripes.
Donnan first learned about Urquhart while searching for the names of local service members inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. He is listed on Panel 3W, Row 57.
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 and Jefferson College, he completed his first tour in Vietnam and then served stateside as an instructor at various Army bases until volunteering for another round of duty.
He would have been 75 this month.
For Donnan, supporting veterans has been a longtime pursuit.
His family tree includes at least nine men who served in the Civil War, and he remembers as a youngster visiting the battlefield at Gettysburg, where one of them died. (David Acheson webpage)
“I think that instilled this sense of wanting to remember men who were lost,” he said.