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Fallen but not forgotten: Capt. Warren Orr Jr.

By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington

Army Capt. Warren Orr Jr. hated injustice, whether it was in his hometown of Kewanee, Ill., or in the villages of Vietnam.

"One time he was coming home from school and he saw this man whipping his dog, and he told the man, 'I'm going to go home and tell my dad, and my dad's going to come down here and whip you like you whipped your dog,'" his father, Warren Orr Sr., recalled recently.

"The next thing I know there's two policemen at my door with a restraining order," his father said with a chuckle. "I didn't know that guy or anything about him, but my son just hated to see anybody abused."

Capt. Orr's sense of compassion continued in the Army, which he joined in 1960 and which sent him to Vietnam as a civil affairs officer, taking care of refugees.

"His main job was making sure they got food and medicine and housing, and he loved doing that," his father said.

On May 12, 1968, Capt. Orr was helping evacuate several hundred Vietnamese women and children from the besieged Kham Duc Special Forces Camp, near Da Nang, before it was overrun by North Vietnamese forces. Their C-130 transport plane was hit by enemy fire on takeoff, exploded in midair and crashed into the jungle. Everyone on board perished.

But was Capt. Orr actually on the plane?

No American saw him get on board, and a 1969 investigation concluded, "Fate remains unknown." He was initially listed as missing in action, while the C-130's five crew members were listed as killed in action.

"It was many, many years later that they finally found him," his father said.

Nearly 40 years later, in fact. On Sept. 19, 2007, a Pentagon official knocked on his father's door in Santa Ana, Calif., and told him his son's remains had been recovered from near the crash site and positively identified through DNA testing.

"It meant a great deal to me," his 87-year-old father said. "It relieved all doubts about whether he was on that plane or whether he was captured or who knows what?"

On Thursday morning, Capt. Warren R. Orr Jr. was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, along with the five airmen aboard the C-130: Maj. Bernard L. Bucher of Eureka, Ill.; Staff Sgt. Frank M. Hepler of Glenside, Pa.; Airman 1st Class George W. Long of Medicine, Kan.; Maj. John L. McElroy of Eminence, Ky., and 1st Lt. Stephen C. Moreland of Los Angeles, Calif.

Capt. Orr's father and three sisters were among the mourners at the group burial. As an Air Force band played the haunting folk tune "Coming Home," his casket was laid beside one containing the comingled remains of all six service members.

"I get to lay him to rest in his own country now," Capt. Orr's father said. "I'm very proud of him. He was quite a man."

He was 25 years old when he died.

Photo of Warren Orr Sr. holding a picture of his son, Army Capt. Warren Orr Jr., courtesy of Rod Veal, The Orange County Register.

 

Click here to view tributes to the 458 service members killed this year in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were no casualties reported last week by the Pentagon.

 

Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.fieldnotes.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories") and at http://john-rutherford.newsvine.com. The first tribute gallery can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22802019/ and the second at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27336564.