Academy grad laid to rest 45 years after losing life in Vietnam

  • Published
  • By Steven Simon
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Development and Alumni Programs
The funeral for an U.S. Air Force Academy graduate killed in the Vietnam War was held April 14 at the Cadet Chapel here, nearly 45 years after he gave his life serving his country.

Capt. Richard D. Chorlins, Class of '67, was laid to rest at the Air Force Academy Cemetery. His remains were transferred here April 13 in a dignified arrival ceremony with Academy Airmen and cadets lining up to pay their respects.

In 1970, then 1st Lt. Chorlins was assigned to the 602nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. On Jan. 11, his A-1H Skyraider was struck by ground fire and crashed into a mountain during a night mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Chorlins' death was officially confirmed Jan. 13 and he was posthumously promoted to captain Jan. 14. His remains were returned to the U.S. in 2003, but not identified until 2013.

Chorlins, of University City, Missouri, graduated from the Academy with a bachelor's degree in economics. He made the superintendent's list for five semesters and the dean's list for academic achievement seven of his eight semesters at the Academy.

Retired Col. Alex Archibald was one of Chorlins' Academy classmates.

"Rick was so intelligent, he didn't have to study as hard as the rest of us, so he had a pretty strict schedule of about an hour or so of studying each night when the rest of us burned the midnight oil just to stay off the dean's other lists (academic probation)," Archibald said.

Chorlins senior-year roommate, retired Col. Dick Tebay, said Chorlins' had a sharp sense of humor. Against regulations, the pair kept a hamster in their room, named Reep for the sound it made, he said.

"During one of our Saturday morning inspections, as we were standing at attention, Reep got out of the laundry bin, ran around our room only partially hidden under the wall heaters, and proudly announced his presense to our air officer commanding," Tebay said. "Rick and I marched a few hours with rifles on the Terrazzo in recognition of this indiscretion. As I recall, every time Rick and I passed each other, rodent communication occurred."

Chorlins was also part of Tebay's wedding.

"He was a groomsman at my wedding in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1967," Tebay said. "As I was getting into my dress uniform just before the wedding, I noticed he had written something in black magic marker on the soles of my shoes. 'Help' was there for all to see when Jeannie and I would be kneeling at the altar."

After graduation from the Academy, Chorlins earned a master's degree in economics at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. He was one of five cadets in a cooperative program between the Academy and Georgetown. Chorlins met his wife Nancy while attending Georgetown.

From Georgetown, Chorlins reported to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, for undergraduate pilot training. His next training stop was Hurlburt Field, Florida, for follow-on training on the A-1 and then Southeast Asia.

Chorlins was interested in returning to the Academy as a faculty instructor after the Vietnam War, said Heather Beer, an Academy Association of Graduates intern.

Chorlins' sacrifice has been honored across the U.S., his name appears on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. (Panel 14W, line 25) and on the Academy's War Memorial on the Terrazzo. The Reflections Gallery in the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis also has a display honoring his memory.

Each year during pre-graduation festivities at the Academy, the Outstanding Cadet in Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Award is presented in memory of captain Chorlins. This award is sponsored by the National Ladies Auxiliary and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, Inc.