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 & 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.
“I think that instilled this sense of wanting to remember men who were lost,” he said.