CHENOWETH, ROBERT PRESTON Name: Robert Preston Chenoweth Rank/Branch: E5 United States Army, crew chief Unit: 58 Avn Det, 223 Bn, 17 Gp, 1 BDE Date of Birth: 31 December 1947 Home City of Record: Portland OR Date of Loss: 08 February 1968 Country of Loss: SVN Loss Coordinates: 164424N 1071941E Status (in 1973): Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1D Other Personnel in Incident: Lenker, Michael, returnee; Rose, Joseph, returnee; Purcell, Benjamin, returnee; Ziegler, Roy "Dick", returnee; George, James Edward, missing Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK 02 March 1997 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews, "Love & Duty", by Ben and Anne Purcell. Updated 2016 REMARKS: 03/16/73 Released by PRG The 101st Airborne Division had a new battalion just outside of Quang Tri City. "Charlie" was everywhere around the city. Radio contact was yet to be established with logistics. A single band radio needed to be delivered there ASAP. Colonel Pen Purcell was the executive commander of the 80th General Support Group and deputy commander of the Dan Nang Sub-Area Command. Purcell decided to hand carry the radio on their way to Dong Ha to check on other troops. Warrant Officer Joe Rose was flying the UH-1 "Huey" and Warrant Officer Dick Ziegler was his copilot. The crew chief was SP/4 Robert Chenoweth, and SP/4 Mike Lenker was the door gunner. Pfc. James E. George, a refrigeration mechanic from Purcell's command, sat in the jump seat. Purcell handed the radio he had come to deliver to Capt Drake. Private George, the refrigeration mechanic, hurried over to repair the disabled reefer truck, which was his mission on this trip. Captain Drake and his commo sergeant got in their jeep and drove off. As Purcell started back toward the helicopter, he saw that the two pilots and Chenoweth had a panel raised and were looking at something. One of the radios was out and they could not fly back up through the overcast skies without it. They had to cancel the rest of the trip up to Dong Ha. Rose turned the helicopter toward the southeast and headed toward the coast. They were flying about three hundred feet or so above the ground - not high enough to be out of range of small-arms fire. Suddenly Warrant Officer Ziegler turned toward Purcell and shouted, "We're being fired on!" His next message was, "We're on fire!" The helicopter gave a sudden lurch and then the inside flared brightly with an orange light. Only seconds after the first round hit, the fire was already hot just forward of the transmission housing in the center of the passenger compartment of the helicopter. Private George and Col. Purcell were sitting on the outside seats as far away from the heat as it was possible to be. The helicopter made a sweeping turn to the right and toward the ground trailing fire and smoke. Rose fought to control the helicopter and to land it as quickly as possible. The helicopter hit hard and the tips of the rotor blades dug into the ground and broke as they struck a large granite monument. The helicopter was ripped to shreds by the ground impact and the flailing rotor blades. George, Chenoweth, Lenker, and Purcell loosened their seat belts and jumped out, but the pilot and copilot couldn't get out through their respective doors. They were trapped in their seats by the "chicken plates," as the aircrews humorously called the armor shields installed between them and their doors. The door gunner ran to the front doors and slid the panels back so Rose and Mr. Ziegler could get out. By the time he opened their doors, though, the pilots had already butted their way through the windshield. Ziegler was hit in the leg. George ran back to the ship to recover his M-14 rifle, which was lying on the floor between the pilots' seats. He drove right into the middle of the flames and the fire engulfed him instantly. Lenker and Purcell had to reach in and drag him out. Flames had licked at George's hands and face, and his skin there was hanging in strips. Lenker and Purcell had a hold of George and they half-carried and halfdragged the badly burned young soldier away from the burning helicopter. Ziegler was limping badly, his leg was bleeding, and George was in great pain and groaning softly. Soon after, the crew was surrounded by twelve Viet Cong. Realizing they had no chance to fight with few weapons and ammunition, the crew surrendered. As the VC forced them to move, the injured George asked Ben Purcell to pray. The VC soon put an end to the prayers -- Purcell was forced to move off and a shot was heard. James E. George was believed executed that day. His remains have never been found. Robert Preston (Bob) Chenoweth spent time in 2 jungle camps (Laos), Portholes, and the Hanoi Hilton. In 1992, Ben and Anne Purcell wrote a love story entitled "LOVE & DUTY" -- the remarkable story of a courageous MIA family and the victory they won with their faith. This short biography was written with information from their book.
By JOAN ABRAMS of the Tribune | Posted: Wednesday, November 11, 2015 12:00 am
Former Vietnam prisoner of war Bob Chenoweth is a curator at the Nez Perce National Historical Park at Spalding.
Since this story originally ran on Memorial Day 1996, Bob Chenoweth has moved to Moscow. Now 67, he is still curator at the Nez Perce National Historical Park in Spalding, but no longer serves as cultural resource manager.
Chenoweth had an opportunity to return to Vietnam in 2014. He wanted to visit some of the historical sites he didn't get a chance to see as a POW; he also re-visited the "Hanoi Hilton" prison grounds, which is now a museum...
Bob joined the Army in 1966 and flew combat helicopter missions for a year before being shot down and captured during Tet 1968. He was released from captivity in 1973. He studied Anthropology at the American University in Washington DC and went to work for the Smithsonian both as a student and afterward. He developed an interest in pre-history while a student and wrote and researched aviation history as well. Bob stayed in the museum field ever since and went to work for the National Park Service in 1990 as curator for the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. He returned to the mainland in 1992 as curator at the Grant Kohrs Ranch in Deerlodge, Montana and came to work at Nez Perce National Historical Park in 1995. He also performs professional assessments of museums through the American Association of Museums. His next assessment will be at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.