Gerald M. Ortego was born on September 25, 1938. This old country boy graduated from Simmesport High School in 1955 and joined the United States Army at the age of 17. Gerald served honorably and was discharged four years later at the age of 21. During this phase of his civilian life, Gerald worked for the space program at NASA’s newly opened Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The facility was under the direction of the legendary Wernher von Braun at the time. While there, Ortego helped to design the guidance system that allowed John Glenn to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth! Gerald soon tired of being behind a desk and took a job with Mercartor Oceanomics in Venezuela doing undersea mapping. However, Gerald felt the call to join the Army once again, this time enlisting in the Warrant Office program. During his training to become a helicopter pilot, Gerald married Janice Rosenkrans, a native of Paw Paw, Michigan. Gerald and Jan met in Venezuela where she was teaching at the Escuela Bella Vista school in Maracaibo. He became a helicopter pilot during the height of the Vietnam War. Being older than the usual 18 and 19-year old men around him, earned Gerald the nickname of “The Old Man”. Many who served with him remember WO Ortego as a level-headed man who mentored the younger soldiers around him. While in Vietnam Gerald served with the 198th Aviation Section, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, in the 198th Infantry Brigade. Unfortunately, this soldier made the ultimate sacrifice during his service. Gerald and his crew were running reconnaissance missions to assist the 1st Marines in nighttime ambushes. On November 21, 1968 Warrant Officer Gerald was going through pre-flight checks of his helicopter on a pad at the 1st Marine Headquarters in Da Nang, Quang Nam Province. His helicopter was struck by an enemy rocket and Gerald and his crew chief, Sergeant Joe Stanley lost their lives. He was laid to rest with honors in the Christ the King Catholic cemetery in Simmesport. His name is on panel 38W, line 29 of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Although Gerald’s watch over our great nation ended that day, we remember him and salute his service and sacrifice. This Memorial Day, we hope that all Americans take a moment to remember Gerald Ortego and all who believed enough in the ideals of this country to risk all…and give all. Although it may seem that this soldier’s story has ended, let us remember that his story carries on in every one of us who enjoys the freedoms Gerald gave his life to protect. May this soldier rest in peace.