Rodney Ellis (Alumni Assoc. President) (1965)
This is a note from our Historian, Sherrie Paty '66. I thought her comments and that of her husband Stephen would help us understand the circumstances and the ultimate sacrifice made by Tom Riggs.
From: STEPHEN AND SHERRY BARBER <email@example.com>
To: Rod Ellis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Mon, Oct 30, 2017 9:47 am
Rod: Can't remember if I sent you this attachment on the listed death of Thomas "Tom" Riggs.
I checked the OHS website and located his sister, Jessalyn Riggs Sturtz, and her brief classmate bio. Jessalyn stated, "My younger brother, Tom, died in the Vietnam war." I then went to my newspaper sources and again perused newspapers from 1968-1979 looking for Tom, his marriage, his career, his MIA status, etc. I came up with one more small clip on him from the Detroit Free Press in 1975. I will include it in his bio.
You asked how he died.......from what I can gather his Army helicopter went down in the South China Sea. Someone must have seen it go down (plus tracked with radar) and reported it. I'm sure there was a search and rescue but nothing was found. I have not been able to locate any info on Tom's wife, Sandra. I don't know what happened to her and assume they did not have children. She was living in the greater Detroit area while he was in Nam.....Farmington to be exact.
Yes, Tom was a helicopter pilot. Interestingly Stephen was a Gunney Sgt. during the war and in charge of a unit that repaired helicopters, sending them back into the field . His small group worked day and night to make sure the birds flew safely. Stephen has mentioned several times machines coming in with bullet holes and damage from ground fire and explosions. His signature was the final authority stating the copter was air-worthy. He had a lot of responsibility!
I've worked and worked on my memory to resurrect anything about Tom. All I can recall is that he was tall (everyone was, is and will always be taller than me!), thin, clean cut, bright minded and quiet. I doubt I said much of anything to him but saw him in the halls and may have had a class with him. Obviously he had to be smart to fly helicopter. One of Stephen's cousins flew a copter in Nam (I think he had 2 tours) and then flew in So. America for 5 years. Dan missed more bullets than the Lone Ranger ever fired. He said copter got into the blood and he'd do anything to be flying again (he has only a 40% heart function now). Helicopter pilots are a breed unto themselves.....and Dan is one of them - a real character! I'm betting Tom was one of the breed.
Laurel Winkel (1968)
The Riggs family lived across the street from us in Tacoma Hills; in fact my older sister dated Don Riggs, the oldest. The youngest, Ric Riggs was a childhood friend - I remember playing board games with him, "SOR-RY!" Tom was always the quiet one, so I don't have any distinct memories other than perhaps a little youthful crush? When he was declared MIA there was a bracelet campaign that had swept the nation; a donation provided you with a stainless steel bracelet with a service person's name on it. I'm not sure how I managed it (perhaps you could write in a request?) but mine had Tom's name on it. I wore it a long time, and remember feeling a little guilty when life moved on and it was time to take off the bracelet. It was sad to learn that he had been reclassified as dead, even though he had most likely perished at the time of the incident.