ROGER DALE WHIRLOW, SPECIALIST FOUR, U.S. ARMY, ODESSA, ECTOR COUNTY, TEXAS
AWARDS AND DECORATIONS
Bronze Star Medal, 2 Army Commendations Medals (one with “V” device), Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three campaign stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal, RVN Military Merit Medal.
Roger was born in Fort Worth, Texas and was the oldest son of Maurice Whirlow and Ruth Love. Roger’s mother had been married before and Roger has a half brother eight years older. Roger also has a sister Judy who was born two years later. Roger’s father was a merchant marine and was gone most of the time. His mother primarily raised him.
Roger attended schools in Odessa. He went to San Jacinto Elementary, Bowie Junior High School and attended Odessa High School. It was during his junior year in high school that he married Nola Briley, the love of his life and the love of hers. Nola is the daughter of Harold and Ruby Briley of Odessa, both deceased. They eloped to Mexico on November 22, 1968. Both dropped out of school at the time and Roger went to work for McVean-Barlow Construction working as a pipeline laborer. Nola states they lived all over the Southwest during that time period, as they would move with the pipeline projects.
Odessa High School-1968
It was X-mas holidays of 1969, when Roger and Nola were in Odessa for a visit, Roger received his draft notice. He reported for Basic Training at Fort Ord, California and after he completed basic training, he reported for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for Field Artillery Training. After completing AIT, he received orders for Vietnam. He started his tour in Vietnam, June 6, 1970.
Roger Whirlow-19th Birthday-1969
Roger was assigned to C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 16th Artillery, 196th Infantry Brigade which under the operational control of the 23rd Division. During Vietnam, the 23rd Divisions was known as the Americal Division. Roger was an artilleryman on 155 Howitzers. His unit was all over the area and was moved in accordance with the needs of the time.
Roger Whirlow-On Leave 1969
In November 1970, Roger met Nola in Hawaii for R&R. Nola became pregnant. On March 20, 1971, two 155 Howitzers (guns 4 and 5) from C Battery, were helicoptered to Fire Support Base Mary Ann. Roger was the chief of gun 5. The unit was to provide artillery support to the area and also provide support as the FSB Mary Ann was to be abandoned in the coming weeks.
Around 2 A.M., March 28, 1971, a unit of some 50 NVA sappers penetrated FSB Mary Ann. The security of the FSB was assigned to two companies of the 1/43rd Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. There were about 205 American soldiers on station at this base. During the early phase of the entry, the NVA were undetected and they were able to spread out and to begin a melee of death and destruction. Several NVA entered the area where the two 155 howitzers were located and in doing so, at a signal they began to throw satchel charges and other explosive devices into the gun pits. Nearby were the sleeping quarters of the gun crews. Old steel connexes had been converted for this purpose. The connexes had one entrance. When the carnage began, Roger and his gun crew were asleep. A satchel charge was thrown into the entrance of the sleeping quarters. There were eight occupants. Roger was one of five personnel that were killed in the explosion. The other three were seriously wounded.
SP4 Roger Whirlow-Vietnam 1970
During the next thirty minutes, the NVA were able to spread havoc and destruction to the fire support base. When the NVA pulled out, and when the area was secured, the final toll was 30 Americans dead and over 80 wounded. The NVA left 15 dead. Through investigations that ran for months, it was determined that the base had lax security, there was an atmosphere of open drug and alcohol usage, there were moral problems, insubordination was rampant. Several bunkers had not been manned, security devices such as trip flares had been stripped and not replaced on the concertina wire. C-4 plastique used to detonate the claymore mines had been removed and was being used for cooking and the C-4 had not been replaced. The prevailing attitude at the FSB had been one that it had never been attacked in five years and it was to be abandoned therefore security had become virtually non-existent.
As a result of the investigation, the Commanding General of the 23rd Division was relieved and reprimanded. The Brigade Commander was relieved and reprimanded. The Battalion Commander who was on duty at the time of the incident, was decorated for his heroism during the battle, but was relieved and reprimanded, as were the two commanders of the infantry companies who were responsible for the security and who were at Mary Ann during the sapper attack. A battery commander at a nearby FSB was reprimanded for failure to set coordinates for FSB Mary Ann in order to be able to lay in fire support. All in all in it was a fiasco.
Roger was in the 9th month of his 12-month tour, Nola was preparing for him to come home. He had aspirations of returning to civilian life, to be a family man and use his GI bill to train to be a welder. While Roger was in Vietnam, Nola had returned to high school and was about to complete her requirements for her high school diploma.
Sunset Memorial Garden's Cemetery, Odessa, Texas
Roger was buried at Sunset Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Odessa. Joe Dale Whirlow, the son that Roger never saw was born on August 8, 1971. After Roger’s death, Nola completed her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and has been teaching school for the past 25 years. She has taught in Odessa and now lives in San Angelo and teaches in the San Angelo Independent School District. Joe Dale completed his college degree at Angelo State University and also teaches in the San Angelo Independent School District.
His father, Maurice Whirlow of Brady, Texas died in March 2005. His mother Ruth Love of Goldsmith, Texas; his older brother Tommy Odell of Lubbock and his sister Judy Kollar of El Paso, Texas also survive Roger.
For a complete accounting of the events read Sappers in the Wire, The Life and Death of Fire Support Base MaryAnn by Keith William Nolan, Texas A&M Press
Joe Whirlow (Son), Ruth Love (Mother), Nola Whirlow (Wife) -2009