Tarrant's 1st loss `No one prouder' to be a Marine than copter pilot

Author: Victor Inzunza; Star-Telegram Writer
Edition: FINAL AM
Section: NEWS

Article Text:
FORT WORTH - It was the one image Connie and David Herr had hoped to avoid, the single event their son had warned them about from Saudi Arabia.

The only time they needed to worry, Marine Capt. David "Chip" Herr had told them, was if two Marines showed up at their doorstep.

About 4 a.m. yesterday, two Marines knocked on Connie and David Herr's door in southwest Fort Worth, and Connie knew instantly that they brought bad news.

What the Marines said was simple, stark. The Herrs' son, a helicopter pilot, had been killed in a crash in Saudi Arabia, making him the first known Tarrant County casualty in the Persian Gulf war.

"I am sad, but very proud," a tearful Connie Herr said yesterday. "After the Marines left the house, my husband and I walked around the block, and decided there is not one moment that we would change of his growing up.

"He did everything the way we would have wanted him to. We had 28 wonderful, wonderful years, and frankly, if he had to die I would have rather he died with the Marines because he loved them so much.

"There was no one prouder of being a Marine than he," she said. "I sent them a boy and he became a man. These last six years were the happiest of his life."

The Pentagon said that Chip Herr, 28, died when his UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed yesterday in eastern Saudi Arabia. The crash killed all four crew members, including another North Texan, Cpl. Albert G. Haddad Jr., 22, of Lewisville, military authorities said.

Initial reports indicated that the crash was not combat-related and may have resulted from mechanical failure.

Herr's death saddened teachers and friends, who remembered him yesterday as an athletic and dedicated student. He was quick to laugh, they said - often at himself.

"He was exceedingly bright and clever," said Ford Dixon, a history teacher at Fort Worth Country Day for 23 years who taught Herr in two classes. "He had one of the most keen wits of anyone I ever taught. But he was one of the least likely guys you would think would become a Marine.

"This was a boy of great academic capacity and a great academic future. David's classmates became doctors and lawyers and movers and shakers . . . and he could have done the same thing.

"I just don't understand it. It is so wasteful."

Edmund Schenecker, 30, a longtime friend who attended both Country Day and Washington & Lee University with Herr, said he learned of the helicopter crash yesterday morning in a radio broadcast.

"You automatically say, "I wonder if . . . ?' " said Schenecker, who attended officers training school with Herr when the two were in college. "Then my dad called (with the news). . . . It's bad."

David Herr Jr. grew up in the Overton Park section of southwest Fort Worth on tree-lined Stonehenge Road. The son of a teacher and a doctor, he and his sister, Sally, 1 1/2 years younger, were the image of all-American kids while growing up, friends recall.

During his youth, Herr was active in various sports and was considered a relentless competitor of average athletic ability.

He also had a bookish side; he loved to read and enjoyed his studies at Fort Worth Country Day, where his mother is a teacher.

To his old coach at Country Day, Herr was the epitome of the scholar-athlete.

"You're talking to a broken-hearted Marine colonel that was very fond of that young man," said retired Marine Col. R.C. Rosacker, former athletic director and coach at Country Day. "I can tell you this right off the top: David Herr was an absolutely outstanding young man; and he did not die as a result of pilot error, because he was the most meticulous young man that I ever knew.

"I've seen this experience in three wars, and you never get used to it. You just don't."

Herr earned 11 varsity letters for cross country, soccer and baseball before graduating from Country Day in 1980. He had a reputation as a good student, and as a senior he considered several colleges, including some in Texas, before choosing Washington & Lee University, a small private college in Lexington, Va.

He picked the school because of its small size and academic reputation, favoring it over larger universities with more distractions.

Herr applied for admission early, and only at the one college. It was the way he did things - directly and without doubt, friends and family said.

"Chip was very self-contained," his mother said. "He was a person who didn't go with the crowd if he didn't think it was right. He had his own set of values, and they were very strong.

"In his world, there was a right and wrong way of doing things, and the right was the way to do it."

It was at Washington & Lee that Herr became interested in the Marines. He joined a Marine program on campus that would allow him to go through boot camp during the summers of his freshman and sophomore years without making a commitment to enlist after graduation.

When he called home to tell his parents about his decision to join the program, they were startled but did not object. By his senior year, it was clear that Herr had fallen in love with the esprit de corps, tradition and way of life of the Marine Corps.

After earning his geology degree in 1984, Herr was commissioned as a second lieutenant and began pursuit of his goal of becoming a Marine flier.

That decision still puzzles some of his friends.

"He was quiet and just not the kind of guy who would do a Rambo number on anyone," teacher Dixon said. "I don't think it ever occurred to David to be a Marine officer or any other officer."

His parents, too, initially were not that comfortable with his decision, but they later came to accept it.

"I don't think people realize the kind of people who are in the Marines," Connie Herr said. "I know I always thought the Marines were kind of goony with this "I want to kill' attitude, and that concerned me at the time.

"But as time went on and we traveled to Quantico, Va., and Pensacola, Fla., as he graduated from the various military schools he was in, we found them to be the classiest young men."

When Herr entered flight school, he chose to fly Huey helicopters. But he also trained with Cobras both built by Bell Helicopter Textron in Fort Worth.

Schenecker remembered how the physically slight Herr survived the grueling officers training camps, at first through force of will and then growing physically stronger through relentless training.

"I'm sure he did more, accomplished more in his life than he ever thought he would be capable of doing," Schenecker said. "If you had asked him if he would have wanted to do anything differently, he wouldn't have changed anything. . . . His death was a loss, but it wasn't a waste."

Herr, whose home base was Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif., loved flying Hueys and often recounted stories about his experiences in the big transport helicopters, his sister Sally said.

At one point, Herr was called upon to transport Vice President Dan Quayle to and from a golf game near Camp Pendleton, she said.

"It was very funny because the Secret Service guys had to be in the helicopter, and as soon as Quayle would leave, they would crack Dan Quayle jokes," she remembered her brother telling her.

On another occasion, while stationed in Okinawa, Herr ferried a Santa Claus across the region to drop off presents to children.

"He called (his helicopter) a sort of a military sleigh," said Sally, a second-year law student at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

And when Bob Hope did a TV special, Herr took up all the photographers to videotape scenes for the program.

"He was very strong-willed, and (flying) was something he wanted to do," Sally said. "He was living every man's dream.

"I take great comfort in knowing that he was doing what he loved, and I know my family does. When I visited him last year at Camp Pendleton . . . he said sitting around at a desk would be slow death for him.

"He understood the risks involved."

Yesterday the Herr family was flooded with condolences from family and friends.
Connie Herr said she had been bracing for the possibility of her son's death since the beginning of the conflict. She knew the risks, and she also knew that her son would have wanted to be in the war effort.

He had been among the first Marines sent to Saudi Arabia in August, and at first he wrote regularly - two and three times a month. But recently the flow of letters had dwindled.

The family last weekend received one letter dated in January, only a few scribbled lines telling Mom and Dad not to worry.

"Chip always told us not to worry unless we saw two Marines at our doorstep," she said. "I heard a knock and there they were - two Marines."

Staff writer Tim Madigan contributed to this report.
Copyright 1991, 1994 STAR-TELEGRAM INC.
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