CURTIS, THOMAS JERRY

Name:  Thomas Jerry Curtis
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force
Unit:  38th Air Rescue/Recovery Sq. 
DaNang Airbase, 
South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 24 August 1932 (Houston, TX)
Home of Record: Houston, TX
Date of Loss: 20 September 1965 
Country of Loss:  North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates:  180555N 1054400E (WF775009)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner Of War
Category:

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  HH43B "Huskie"
Other Personnel in Incident: Duane W. Martin (missing), William A. Robinson and Arthur N. Black (returned POWs)

REMARKS:  730212 RELEASED BY DRV

SYNOPSIS:   The Kaman HH43 Huskie helicopter, nicknamed "Pedro," provided the only dedicated rescue capability early in the war and helped to develop many of the techniques which were later perfected by other rescue aircraft. The Huskie was also used extensively to provide airbase crash fire suppression.

On 20 September 1965, then Capt. Thomas J. Curtis, aircraft commander, 1Lt. Duane W. Martin, co-pilot, SSgt. William A. Robinson, crewchief, and A1C Arthur N. Black, pararescueman, comprised the crew of a HH43B helicopter, call sign "Duchy 41," which was on a rescue mission for the pilot of an F105D. The Thunderchief crashed 10 miles east of the Lao/Vietnamese border and 40 nautical miles south of Vinh, North Vietnam. The weather conditions included 11,000 foot high broken to scattered clouds with rain showers and low clouds. The Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft departed Nakhon Phanom Airbase, Thailand. Within five minute of arriving on station, the pilot of an A1E who was participating in the recovery operation, observed the Huskie take enemy ground fire and crash on a ridge that bordered a small canyon which was enclosed on all sides by steep slopes and by jungle canopy. As a second SAR helicopter hovered over the downed HH43B fuselage, he saw a pin flare pass in front of his aircraft. At the same time, his helicopter took six hits from enemy ground fire forcing him to move away from the wreckage. Because of the intense enemy presence in the area, no ground search was possible for the crews of the F105D and HH43B. All five men were listed Missing in Action. Later it was learned all crewmen aboard the Huskie has in fact been captured.

Thomas Curtis, William Robinson and Arthur Black were captured by the NVA, moved to a POW camp in North Vietnam where they were released during Operation Homecoming. Duane Martin was captured by Pathet Lao forces and immediately moved to a POW camp in Khammouan Province, Laos. This camp already housed Eugene DeBruin, Prasit Promsuwan, Prasit Dhanee, To Yick Chiu (Y. C. To) and Pisidhi Indradat; the surviving five crewmen from an Air America C46 aircraft shot down in 1963.

On the morning of 29 June 1966, while the 16 guards ate their meal in the mess hall, Pisidhi, Dieter Dengler and Duane Martin removed a previously loosened log, left their cell, climbed through a prepared opening in the bamboo fence and secured the rifles from the empty guard towers. The three armed POWs confronted the guards. When they were ordered to remain still one of the guards panicked and began to flee. The three POWs killed the guards and all seven POWs fled the compound. Following prepared plans, they split into three groups: Lt. Dengler and Lt. Martin, Gene DeBruin and a sickly Y. C. To, and the three Thais. They planned that if one group was rescued, it would direct a search party toward the other two groups of escapees. Some five days after their escape, Dieter Dengler and Duane Martin were near a Kha village. According to one report, after being seen by a young girl, Duane Martin entered the village to beg for food and was killed by a villager with a machete. The man first swung the machete cutting off Duane Martin's leg. He swung a second time decapitating him. Dieter Dengler, who did not enter the village with Lt. Martin, watched in horror as Duane Martin was murdered. On 20 July 1966, 23 days after making their escape, Dieter Dengler was rescued by helicopter. To date the communists have made no attempt to return the remains of Duane Martin.

Duane W. Martin is among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. The Lao admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

While the fate of Duane Martin is not in doubt, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country he gave his life for. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly under many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
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