Incident Date 19670313 HMM-163 UH-34D 150574+ - Hostile Fire, Crash
Samaras, Peter Nicholas Maj Pilot HMM-163 MAG-16 1967-03-19 (vvm 16E:115)
Terwilliger, Virgil Byron LCpl Crew HMM-163 MAG-16 1967-03-13 (vvm 16E:074)
Harris, Paul Winiford PFC Crew HMM-163 MAG-16 1967-03-13 (vvm 16E:072)
LOSS COORDINATES: N16 44 51 E106 58 13Submitted by: N/A, 20030804
HMM-163 Command Chronology - March 1967
On 13 March 1967, Major Peter N. Samaras, while on an emergency recon team retraction, received fire as he was touching down in the landing zone, The aircraft received several hits and the pilot immediately lifted off. He continued to receive fire and the aircraft subsequently lost power and crashed into the trees. The aircraft exploded before the other two crewmembers could be freed. The pilots were retrieved from the area the following day by a CH-46A and were taken to the USS REPOSE.
The list of squadron casualties reports that Major Samaras died of wounds and burns on 19 March aboard the Naval Hospital Ship USS REPOSE. 2dLt Robert E. Swete was treated for second degree burns on the REPOSE and survived. LCpl Virgil B. Terwilliger and PFC Paul W. Harris both died when the UH-34D helicopter crashed and burned.
I was a recently transitioned (from fixed wing) co-pilot in the four aircraft division Maj Samaras commanded as a detachment from HMM-163 at Phu Bai to Dong Ha on 13 March 1967. When he received the higher-risk emergency recon extract mission, the Maj selected crew members with experience. I had flown my first rotary wing mission in Vietnam three days earlier and was not selected.
On the same day, the 13th, a rescue/extraction was attempted by a CH-46 with Huey gunships. The dense forest canopy forced a cable and stretcher-basket recovery attempt. Lt Swete was in the CH-46 and Maj Samaras was in the basket when the CH-46 received enemy fire and crashed. Both Swete and Samaras were injured again.
That night, those Marines of the recon team and the CH-46 crew capable of doing so and Lt Swete defended their position by intermittently firing primarily the .50 caliber machine guns retrieved from the CH-46.
After returning to the Squadron from the USS REPOSE Lt Swete was ordered to CONUS having been awarded his 3rd Purple Heart.
The Squadron was deeply affected by the loss of three members.
During a hot recon extract, aircraft from HMM-163 received intense enemy fire on approach to landing zone. Aircraft crashed and burned, crewmembers Paul Harris and Virgil Terwilliger KIA at scene of crash. A/C MAJ Samaras received 2nd and 3rd degree burns over substantial portion of body, died within a week or so of a heart attack due to burn related stress. Co-pilot, 2ndLt Robert Swete (LtCol. Robert Swete U.S.M.C. (ret.) was sole survivor of incident.Submitted by: Van C. Pacey, HMM-163 stationed at Dong Ha, friend of Paul Harri, 20030804
1. VHPA database gives YD100525 as the site location. Pop-A-Smoke says "LOSS
COORDINATES: N16 44 51 E106 58 13".
Both are wrong.
2. The crash site, crewmen involved, and location are spelled out in
a. HMM-163 CmdChron TT 1201081038.pdf p5 by event, p10 by names. No location given.
b. MAG-16 CmdChron TT 1201077222.pdf p9 by event, location given as "16
miles W-NW of Dong Ha". Page 15 gives names, location as "14 miles west of
c. An HMM-164 CH-46 was shot down while trying to pick up the HMM-163
survivors; see MAG-16 CmdChron and HMM-164 CmdChron TT 1201082003.pdf p6.
Location given for CH-46 downing is UTM XD995625.
d. The incident is recorded in the 3d MARDIV Ops Log TT 1201028003.pdf p143 #91; location given is coord XD985639. There are subsequent entries which
address the CH-46 downing and the recovery the following day of all
e. Site excavations are reported in JPAC Camp Smith Hawaii messages date-
time groups 141850Z JUN 07 and 262111Z JUL 07. Both say the site excavated
is at XD983619. No remains or significant wreckage were recovered, although fragmented items of flight crew equipment were. Recovered materials were not sufficient to prove they came from BuNo 150574.
3. Attached graphic shows the POW Network/VHPA/Pop-A-Smoke site in RED and the location as documented para 2 above in GREEN. Note the actual crash site is approximately 15 kilometers northwest of the incorrectly reported site.
Pete & I were enlisted together while DI's. Flight training together, and I was fortunate enough to have been his Best Man at his wedding in Pensacola. We even got run over together on Foley Beach while sleeping on the beach. A Marine's Marine was he.Submitted by: John E. Felth, buddy, 20040219
Terwilliger took my place as helicopter machine-gunner on that mission.Submitted by: Robert G Gibson, roommate in Vietnam, 20030804
I grew up in the same neighborhood with Paul Harris. Paul was one of the nicest kids and young men that I have ever known. He was one of those kids that your parents never minded having around and the teachers all wished they had a classroom full of. I can never remember anyone not liking Paul and it never came as a suprise to anyone when Paul voluntarily set an example and willingly joined the Marine Corps instead of waiting for or trying to avoid the draft.
His enlistment into the Marine Corps and his subsequent loss in VietNam had a very direct effect on the Marine recruiting office in Chillicothe never having a problem meeting enlistment quotas during the Vietnam war.
Paul was the second of nineteen young men and the first Marine from the city of Chillicothe to die in VietNam. There are a large number of men in this area now that are very proud of their service in the Marine Corps, myself included because of the direct effect that Paul's loss caused here.
We also lost Cpl. Glenn Mowrey USMCR just a year after we lost Paul, also to the crash of a UH/34D helicopter in VietNam. Paul was very proud of his service in the Marine Corps and the job that he was doing in VietNam. He felt like he belonged in Marine helicopters and he felt at home with his squadron mates. Paul died in good company doing a job that he believed in. Thank you for helping to keep Paul's memory alive. Semper Fidelis.
Virgil was 7th of 12 children. We were a very close family. It has been 37 years since his death and there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of him. I would give everything I own, if I could bring him home to be buried beside our mother. I buried her with her Gold Star pin on her breast. He was my best friend and I mourn him greatly.
Paul Harris was a friend of mine, his class mates (now scattered over the nation) and the citizens of Chillicothe, Ohio. It seems the Harris family had been forgotten after receiving notification of Paul's death. They never received the medals Paul would have received had he lived. There had never been a marker for a cemetery in his memory. There had never been a memorial service to honor him. Until now. Members of his graduating high school class have worked to correct this situation. In time for the 39th anniversary of his death, a brass marker had been set in Soldiers' Square in Greenlawn Cemetery in Paul's home town. On September 30, 2006, Paul's life will be honored at a Memorial Tribute given in his memory. Along with the Harris family and friends, some of the family and friends of Virgil Terwilliger will be in attendance and the only survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Swete (retired), of that fatal incident of that fatal day will be coming to speak and present the medals to the family. Military honors will be by US Marine Corps Lima Company who lost 23 of their men in Iraq in 2005.
Paul Harris, Virgil Terwilliger, Peter Samaras, and all the men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam should never be forgotten. Except for their names engraved on The Wall, many of them have never been honored. POPASMOKE and other web sites have done a great job in remembering the sacrifice made by these men and women. It is time for each community to honor those KIA/BNR who have been forgotten.
I first met Virgil at Futema, Okinawa, in August of 1966. I found his countenance amusing - thinking that I had just encountered an over-sized Irish leprechaun. We became friends at once and became almost like brothers over the time we sailed from Okinawa to the air base at Phu Bai aboard the USS Iwo Jima.
Virgil worked as a clerk in the S-1 office and I flew missions as an aircrew member with Section One. But neither of us let MOS rivalry get in the way of our friendship. Our favorite evening passtime was meeting at the EM Club to play back-alley bridge. Those ocassions became less frequent as our squadron provided air support at Dong Ha and Khe Sanh and my duties kept me away from Phu Bai for months at a time. But our reunions were always great fun.
During one of our bridge games, Virgil and I decided to extend our tours with the Ridgerunners. Our plan was to spend fifteen days hanging out in my home town of Los Angeles. We'd spend the last fifteen days of our leave around him home town of Toledo, Ohio. California and the last fifteen days of our leave in Ohio. But Virgil didn't want to go home without his wings. So he bagan flying missions on half skins around the Phu Bai AO. Each time I returned to Phu Bai, Virgil would lament that he was lacking the "strikes" he needed to qualify for his wings. I remember advising him to get himself assigned to operations around Dong Ha. He took my advise. His first flight at Dong Ha was on 13 March 1967; a day that would change our vacation plans.
The last time I saw Virgil, he was standing beside his helicopter, ready for an upcoming flight. I had just returned from a hop and was in a hurry to get some chow before my next flight. I still recall the last words I ever said to him: "I promise, you'll get those wings." Isn't it ironic, how you remember so clearly those lost opportunities in life? How I wish I had taken just thirty more seconds to offer a more meangful salutation. How I wish that I had been more cognizant of the tenuous nature of our existence in that place. How I wish that I had been flying gunner in that aircraft instead of Virgil.
I visited Virgil's family after returning home and it was evident that Virgil left behind a large and wonderful family. His Mother, Father, Sisters and Brothers all embraced me as though I was Virgil himself. They listened so reverently as I shared every story I could think of about how valiantly Virgil served as a member of our squadron.
Before my departure, I left my combat aircrew insignia with Linda (one of Virgil's Sisters) who displays Virgil's military awards in her home. She and the rest of the family presented to me a bracelett that became quite ubiquitous during the 60's and 70's. While the fad has faded over time, I continue to wear Virgil's bracelett in honor his sacrifice for the Corps and for our country. As long as I am living, Virgil Terwilliger will never be forgotten.
PFC Paul Winford Harris
LCpl Virgil Terwilliger, USMC
LCpl Virgil Terwilliger, USMC
Dusty, not a day goes by that I don't think of you. I remember the last time I saw you standing in the doorway in your uniform. To this day, it still seems like a dream. I know that you were respected by all that came in contact with you. RIP.
When I saw the officers standing at the front door of the house, I knew but than I didn't want to admit it. I love you.
Personal Request from Family
I am the Grandson of Major Peter N. Samaras. I am looking for any information regarding what my grandfather was like, and what exactly happened in the events that lead to his death. Please send me an Email so I can preserve his memory.Submitted by: George Scott Whitehead II, Grandson of Major Samaras, 20110601