After 38 years, TSgt. Roy DeWitt Prater, killed in South Vietnam, will be laid to rest next to his wife.
Born on July 1, 1936, in Knoxville, Tennessee, he was the son of Roy and Louise Prater. DeWitt spent his formative years in Knoxville and Columbia City, Indiana, where he graduated in 1954. After high school graduation he moved to Piqua, Ohio, and attended Miami University in Oxford, before entering the military in 1955, the start of a 17 year career.
On December 16, 1956, he married JoAnn Jagger at the Blue River Church of the Brethren in Columbia City, Indiana.
TSgt Roy DeWitt Prater served in the United States Marine Corps from October 17, 1955 to August 14, 1965 which included tours in Florida, the Philippine Islands, Japan, and the Cuban Islands. On August 19, 1965 he enlisted in the United States Air Force. TSgt Prater’s first Air Force assignment was a helicopter technician to Detachment 17, Central Air Rescue Center, Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana. On July 15, 1967 he was assigned to Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone as Flight Engineer to the 24th Air Commando Wing. On July 3, 1970 he was assigned as a CH-3 helicopter technician to Det. 3, 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing, Patrick AFB, Florida where he worked with NASA Apollo Missions in recovering Space Capsules and Astronauts. On October 15, 1971 he was assigned as a helicopter flight engineer to the 37th Air Rescue Recovery Squadron, DaNang Airfield, Republic of Vietnam.
On April 6, 1972, TSgt Prater died in South Vietnam while trying to rescue two downed airmen when his helicopter was shot down. The mission, code name “BAT 21”, was the longest search-and-rescue mission in the history of the United States Air Force. His decorations included the Silver Star, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.
On May 31, 1976 a Memorial Service and Dedication Ceremony ”My Life - Your Freedom" was held at Morsches Park, Columbia City, dedicating a monument for Roy DeWitt Prater and the Men of Whitley County who died in Vietnam. On June 22, 1979, a Memorial and Dedication Ceremony was held at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio naming a new dormitory “PRATER HALL” in honor of TSgt Prater who made the “Supreme Sacrifice in the Defense of Freedom”. On November 19, 1997 a Memorial Service for the crew of “Jolly Green 67”, TSgt Prater’s helicopter, was held at Arlington National Cemetery. The six crewmen were interred and remembered for giving their lives “That Others May Live.” The entire Prater family attended all services.
DeWitt enjoyed sports, fishing, hunting and spending time with his family.
Surviving family members include one son, Dennis (Becky) Prater of Ft Wayne; two daughters Debbie (Bill) Vance and Pam (Ray) Deno of Columbia City; a brother Jack (Peg) Prater of Wapakoneta, Ohio; and six grandchildren, Jill Prater, Bradie Vance, Brooke Vance, Holly Deno, Amber Deno and Blake Deno.
Deceased family includes his father, Roy Prater, killed in WWII; mother, Louise Strickland; stepfather, Donald Strickland; and his wife JoAnn Prater.
Now, 38 years later, his mission will be complete as his remains have been positively identified by DNA and are being returned to the family cemetery in Columbia City, Indiana. The Prater family is having a Hero's Welcome Home ceremony to give their father the honor and respect he so richly deserves. Visitation will be 10:00am – 1:00pm. Saturday, June 19, 2010 at Smith & Sons Funeral Home, Columbia City. The committal service will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Blue River Cemetery with Full Military Honors provided by the United States Air Force.
Condolences may be sent to www.smithandsonsfuneralhome.com.