Some time ago I working on the genealogy of one of my Phillips family branches and made a remarkable, present day discovery.
I had been at work on this line for years and all of a sudden I finally made a discovery that led me to the story I want to relate for Memorial Day here today.
This discovery was that a second part of my Phillipps/Phillips family had come to the US. To date, I have traced my Phillipps/Phillips family back to 1535 in Cornwall. Always in Cornwall …. until this! The discovery was that the branch of my great grandfather’s sister, Mary Phillipps Allen, actually emigrated from Cornwall to the United States unknown to anyone. Prior to this discovery, the family had always believed that my grandfather was the only member of his family to leave Cornwall for the States and that was back in the early 1900’s.
The nugget of information that led to this discovery was held in a will for Mary’s father, Nicholas Phillipps. Luckily for me, a long way back, the Phillipps family owned some significant lands in Cornwall, so they were avid writers of wills and users of attorneys-at-law. Yep, they left a very nice paper trail that I have been using now that I have discovered their roots in the parish of St. Teath.
In one of these wills was the married name of one Mary Phillipps, as Mrs. Thomas Allen. I was thrilled as I had always had Mary in the family tree, but no idea what became of her. The search was made even easier as I discovered that she and her husband nicely named their first son, Thomas Phillipps Allen.
Due to the age-old tin mining industry in Cornwall, one of the old saws about Cornwall and the Cornish is: “If there is a hole in the ground, you will always find a Cornishman at the bottom”.
In this case, the hole was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Marquette County. The iron and copper mines of the UP are just a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Superior. Whew, I bet those winters were something else for those poor hard-rock miners!
Months of research and with the help of some fantastic folks at the Marquette Regional History Center and I was moving from the 1700’s in Cornwall up close to the present times.
As I moved along in my research getting closer and closer to the present day, I was very excited as I discovered a new cousin, Paul Dean Urquhart. Here was a connection in my generation and I couldn’t wait to connect! I moved out of ‘research’ mode and into ‘contact mode’. Facebook, Google, Bing, etc …..
I was brought up short very quickly. My early excitement dissipated and turned to a deep sadness. I came to learn that cousin Paul had been killed by enemy fire in the Vietnam War.
“The Hughes OH6A Cayuse was known by the troops by its nickname “Loach” – a derivative of “light observation helicopter.” The armed OH6A was the primary scout helicopter used in Vietnam and usually carried a crew of two. The pilot controlled a mini-gun and a gunner/crew chief handled a “free 60” machine gun, among other weapons, which was attached to the aircraft by a strap. The Loach crews flew the most dangerous missions assigned to Army aviators because they flew low and usually slow enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy targets for the enemy.
On 28 May 1971, Capt. Paul D. Urquhart, pilot, and Sgt. 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 Thin 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 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 Capt. Urquhart and Sgt. 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.
While Capt. Paul Urquhart and Sgt. Stephen Chavira probably perished in the crash of their helicopter, no one knows for sure. If they perished in this loss incident, they have the right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and the country they so proudly served. However, if they managed to survive, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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.”
Paul Dean Urquhart gave his life in defense of our freedoms. While his body has yet to be discovered and returned home and he is still listed as ‘Killed-in-Action/Body Not Recovered”, his alma mater, Washington and Jefferson University engraved his name on their War Memorial and he has a gravestone in his home town of Negaunee, Michigan.
Paul Dean Urquhart is one more reason that Memorial Day is incredibly meaningful to my family and to me. Not simply the start of summer, but a time for reflection and memories.
A time for thanks and for remembering that Freedom is not Free.
Onward To Our Past,