TERWILLIGER, VIRGIL BYRON

Name: Virgil Byron Terwilliger 
Rank/Branch: Lance Corporal/US Marine Corps 
Unit: HMM-163, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 1st Marine Air Wing 
Date of Birth: 08 May 1946 (Toledo, OH)
Home of Record: McClure, OH
Date of Loss: 13 March 1967 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 164451N 1065813E (YD100525)
Click coordinates to view(4) maps
Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH34D "Seahorse"
Other Personnel In Incident: Paul W. Harris (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  One of the earliest helicopters employed in Southeast Asia, and the primary Marine Corps helicopter used during the early years of the war, was the Sikorsky UH34D Seahorse. These aircraft were already quite old when they arrived in the battle zone. However, both the US and South Vietnamese military found them to be extremely effective throughout the war.

On 13 March 1967, Major Peter N. Samaras, aircraft commander; 2nd Lt. Robert E. Swete, pilot; PFC Paul W. Harris, crew chief; and LCpl. Virgil B. Terwilliger, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH34D (serial #150574) that was participating in an emergency extraction for a reconnaissance team that had been operating deep within enemy held territory and was in heated battle with a Viet Cong (VC) force of unknown size.

The Seahorse made its approach to the designated landing zone (LZ), and as it touched down the aircraft received several hits from enemy ground fire. Major Samaras immediately lifted off while PFC Harris and LCpl. Terwilliger returned fire. The helicopter continued to receive intense and accurate ground fire. Suddenly the crippled helicopter lost power and crashed into the trees just to the south of the LZ. As the aircraft began to burn, Major Samaras and 2nd Lt. Swete exited the Seahorse. Unfortunately, the aircraft exploded before LCpl. Terwilliger and PFC Harris, who were trapped inside its twisted fuselage, could be freed.

The crash site was located in a generally flat and heavily populated area approximately 2 miles east of mountain foothills, 14 miles northeast of Khe Sanh and 15 miles due west of Quang Tri City, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. It was also 18 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and 28 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Laotian border. The crash site was located roughly ¼ mile east of Highway 558 in a large forested area surrounded by rice fields, hamlets and villages of various sizes. The area was also laced with footpaths and trails that connected the villages with the rice fields and with each other.

The next day a search and rescue (SAR) operation successfully recovered Peter Samaras and Robert Swete, along with the recon team. Both men had been seriously injured, and were transported to the hospital ship USS Repose for medical treatment. On 19 March Major Samaras died from his wounds and burns while still on board the USS Repose. 2nd Lt. Swete was treated for second degree burns and survived. Due to the condition of the wreckage, SAR personal were unable to recover Paul Harris and Virgil Terwilliger. At the time the formal search operation was terminated, PFC Harris and LCpl. Terwilliger were reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

There is very little doubt that Paul Harris and Virgil Terwilliger died in the loss of their aircraft and there appears to be little chance their remains can be recovered. However, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all humanly possible. Above all else, they have the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which they gave their lives.

For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different. Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American military men were called upon to fight in 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.