HELWIG, ROGER DANNY
Name: Roger Danny Helwig
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 17 May 1943
Home City of Record: Colorado Springs CO
Date of Loss: 11 September 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 163920N 1062250E (XD472415)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: Roger H. Stearns (remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 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.
SYNOPSIS: When North Vietnam began to increase their 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. The
border road, termed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" was used for transporting weapons,
supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were shot down trying to stop
this communist traffic to South Vietnam. Fortunately, search and rescue teams in
Vietnam were extremely successful and the recovery rate was high.
Still there were nearly 600 who were not rescued, including Stearns and Helwig.
Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and rescue and
other planes; some were known to have been captured. Hanoi's communist allies in
Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke of American prisoners they held, but when
peace agreements were negotiated, Laos was not included, and not a single
American was released that had been held in Laos.
One of the aircraft used the Trail was the F4 Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine
and Navy air wings. The Phantom served a multitude of functions including
fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic surveillance. The two-man
aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles,
depending on stores and mission type). The F4 was also extremely maneuverable
and handled well at low and high altitudes. Most pilots considered it one of the
"hottest" planes around.
Capt. Roger D. Helwig and Capt. Roger H. Stearns are both listed as pilots by
the Department of Defense. They comprised the aircrew of an F4D fighter/bomber
sent on a combat mission over Laos on September 11, 1969. During the mission,
the aircraft was shot down about 5 miles southeast of Sepone in Savannakhet
Province. This location is about 10 miles west of the Vietnam border a few miles
south of the Demilitarized Zone. It is on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The fates of Helwig and Stearns are not known, but circumstances surrounding the
crash of the aircraft indicated to the Air Force that both died in the crash,
and that the enemy probably knew their fate.
On May 22, 1990, the Vietnamese, having denied knowledge of Helwig and Stearns
for many years, "discovered" and returned to U.S. control the remains of Roger
H. Stearns. The fate of Helwig remains unclear.
Were it not for the thousands of reports concerning Americans still held captive
in Southeast Asia, the Helwig family might be able to close this tragic chapter
of their lives. But as long as Americans are alive, being held captive, one of
them could be Helwig. No one realloy knew the Vietnamese had control of Stearns'
body. Helwig could have fallen into the hands of either the Lao or Vietnamese.
It's time we brought all our men home.