CURTIS, THOMAS JERRY

Name: Thomas Jerry Curtis
Rank/Branch: 03/US Air Force
Unit: Det 3 38th ARS
Date of Birth: 24 August 1932
Home City of Record: Houston TX
Date of Loss: 20 September 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 180500N 1054400E (WF775009)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: HH43B
Other Personnel in Incident: Duane W. Martin, POW/MIA; William A. Robinson;
Arthur N. Black (returned POWs)

REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV

Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families,
published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 2008.

SYNOPSIS: On September 20, 1965, 1Lt. Duane W. Martin, co-pilot; Capt.
Thomas J. Curtis, pilot; SSgt. William A. Robinson, flight engineer; and
Airman Arthur N. Black, pararescue; comprised the crew and passengers of an
HH43B "Huskie" helicopter operating about 10 miles from the border of Laos
in Ha Tinh Province, North Vietnam.

 The Huskie is typically a crash rescue helicopter, and although it was
considered to be inadequate for Southeast Asia duty, the Air Force had no
other options at the time. The increase in combat called for an ever
increasing need for rescue services. Some of the Huskies were shored up with
heavy armor plate to protect the crews, and outfitted with long cables to
facilitate rescue in the high rain forest. During the period Martin, Curtis,
Robinson and Black were on their mission in Ha Tinh Province, most of the
rescue crews were dispatched out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand and Bien Hoa,
South Vietnam, both being stop-gap installations until the primary rescue
agency, 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group was formed at Tan Son Nhut
in January 1966.

Public records do not indicate the precise nature of the mission undertaken
on September 20, 1965, but the HH43B went down near the city of Tan An, and
all four personnel aboard the aircraft were captured. It is not clear if the
four were captured by North Vietnamese or Pathet Lao troops or a combination
of the two. Duane W. Martin was taken to a camp controlled by Pathet Lao.
Curtis, Robinson and Black were released in 1973 by the North Vietnamese,
and were in the Hanoi prison system as early as 1967.

Duane Martin found himself held by the Pathet Lao with other Americans. Some
of them had been held for more than two years. (Note: This would indicate
that there were Americans in this camp who had been captured in 1964. The
only American officially listed as captured in Laos in 1964 is Navy Lt.
Charles F. Klushann, who was captured in June 1964 and escaped in August
1964. Source for the "two years" information is Mersky & Polmer's "The Naval
Air War in Vietnam", and this source does not identify any Americans by name
who had been held "for more than two years". Civilian Eugene DeBruin, an
acknowledged Laos POW, had been captured in the fall of 1963. Dengler has
stated that a red-bearded DeBruin was held in one of the camps in which he
was held. All previous Laos loss incidents occurred in 1961 and 1962.)

One American who joined the group in February 1966 was U.S. Navy pilot Lt.
Dieter Dengler. Lt. Dengler had launched on February 1, 1966 from the
aircraft carrier USS RANGER in an A1H Skyraider as part of an interdiction
mission near the border of Laos. Ground fire severely damaged his aircraft,
and he was forced to crash land in Laos. Although he had successfully evaded
capture through that night, he was finally caught by Pathet Lao troops, who
tortured him as they force-marched him through several villages.

Throughout the fall of 1965 and into spring and summer of 1966, the group of
Americans suffered regular beatings, torture, harassment, hunger and illness
in the hands of their captors. According to an "American Opinion" special
report entitled "The Code" (June 1973), Dengler witnessed his captors behead
an American Navy pilot and execute six wounded Marines. (Note: no other
source information available at time of writing reveals the names of these
seven Americans.)

On June 29, 1965, after hearing the prisoners were to be killed, Martin and
Dengler and unnamed others (Eugene DeBruin was apparently part of this
group, but was recaptured, and according to information received by his
family, was alive at least until January 1968, when he was taken away with
other prisoners by North Vietnamese regular army troops.) decided to make
their escape in a hail of gunfire in which six communist guards were killed.
Dengler was seriously ill with jaundice, and Martin was sick with malaria.
Dengler and Martin and the others made their way through the dense jungle
surviving on fruits, berries, and some rice they had managed to save during
their captivity.

They floated down river on a raft they had constructed, eventually coming to
an abandoned village where the men found some corn. After a night's rest,
Dengler and Martin made their way downstream to another village. This
settlement was occupied, however, and the two Americans were suddenly
attacked by a villager with a machete. Dengler managed to escape back into
the jungle, but Martin was fatally wounded by the assailant. It had been 18
days since their escape.

Dengler made his way alone, and on the 22 day, with his strength almost
gone, he was able to form an SOS with some rocks, and waited, exausted to be
rescued or die. Luck was with him, for by late morning, an Air Force A1E
spotted the signal and directed a helicopter to pick up Dengler. He weighed
98 pounds. When he had launched from his aircraft carrier 5 months earlier,
he had weighed 157 pounds.

Curtis, Robinson and Black were released from Hanoi on February 12, 1973,
over seven years from the time of their capture. Lt. Duane Martin's fate
remains uncertain. If, as reported, he was killed during the escape attempt,
no effort has been made by the Lao to return his body.

Martin is one of nearly 600 Americans who remain prisoner, missing or
otherwise unaccounted for in Laos. Although the U.S. maintained only a
handful of these men in POW status, over 100 were known to have survived
their loss incident. The Pathet Lao stated during the war that they held
"tens of tens" of American prisoners, but they would be released only from
Laos (meaning that the U.S. must negotiate directly with the Pathet Lao).

The Pathet Lao were not part of the agreements that ended American
involvement in Southeast Asia, and no negotiations have been conducted with
them since for the prisoners they held.

Reports continue to come in related to missing Americans in Southeast Asia.
It does not seem likely that Martin is among the hundreds thought by many
authorities to be still alive, but what would he think of the abandonment of
his fellow Americans. Are we doing enough to bring these men home?
 
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME  copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and
spelling errors).


THOMAS J. CURTIS
Lieutenant Colonel - United States Air Force
Shot down: September 20, 1965
Released: February 12, 1973

PERSONAL BACKGROUND:

            Born 24 August 1932, reared in Houston, Texas, attended University
of Houston two years, majored in Diesel Electric Engineering. Enlisted as a
pilot (Aviation Cadet) 30 October 1952. Received Wings and Commission 18
December 1954 at Bryan AFB, Texas.

ASSIGNMENTS:
            December 1954 - September 1956 at Ellington AFB, Texas. Duty as
HU-16 and H-19 pilot with the 47th Air Rescue Squadron, MAC. September 1956 -
April 1958, T-29 pilot and instructor with the 3608th Navigator Training
Squadron (Flying Support), Ellington AFB, Texas, Air Training Command. April
1958 September 1959, same duty at Mather AFB, California. September 1959 -
September 1962, with the 38th Tactical Missile Wing, USAFE, Sembach Air Base,
Germany, duty as a T-33 simulated missile pilot and Base Operations Officer.
September 1962 - April 1965, Commander, Det. 9, Central Air Rescue Center,
MAC, England AFB, Louisiana. Volunteered for TDY to Southeast Asia as Rescue
Crew Commander in HH-43B aircraft at Nakhan Phanon, Thailand. Was shot down 20
September 1965. Was released 12 February 1973.

FUTURE PLANS:

            Air War College in August 1973 at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, then
remain in Prattville, Alabama for completion of undergraduate work at Troy
State University. Will remain in USAF until retirement in 1982.

FAMILY:

            Wife, Terry, son, Tom 16, daughter, Lori 13. Terry and I were
married in Houston, Texas 12 April 1957, and we call Houston our hometown;
however, she and the children have lived in Alexandria, Louisiana since 1962.

THOUGHTS:

            My joy in being home is interrupted almost daily as I think of the
families of our men who did not return. My heart goes out to them, as their
waiting has not ended. To these brave families, my most sincere salute.


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Fearful that remaining in the military would someday send him back into
combat, Thomas Curtis retired early from the military, and taught school for
11 years. He and his wife Terry reside in Texas.

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