Cordova Chronicles: Bridge names honor 4 Cordovans lost in Vietnam

Part three of a series on the Copper River Highway bridges

The bridge at Mile 9.2 on the Copper River Highway honors David Alen Lape, CHS ’62. He and his twin brother Doug flew helicopters in the same unit in Vietnam. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., lists the names of the 58,228 service men and women who fell while serving in Vietnam.

On June 24, 2006, the “Moving Wall,” a half-size replica of that memorial had been traveling the United States since 1984, came to Cordova and stood on Hollis Henrichs Park for four days.

Appropriately so.

Engraved on that wall are the names of four Cordovans who gave their lives in Vietnam: David Henry Elisovsky, David Alen Lape, Warren Allen Paulson and Michael Dean Banta.

During ceremonies on that June day, it was noted that Cordova suffered the most casualties per capita of any town in the United States.

Four bridge signs on the Copper River Highway honor these men.

The Scott River Bridge at Mile 9.2 on the Copper River Highway is named in honor of David Henry Elisovsky, the first Cordovan to fall in Vietnam. Elisovsky was born here on July 24, 1947 and died on Jan. 23, 1966 from sniper fire.

At age 17, Elisovsky volunteered for service. Because of his age, his mother had to accompany him to the enlistment because he was too young to sign up on his own.

He became a paratrooper and was a sergeant in the 327th Infantry Battalion of the 101st Airborne that had been dropped in by helicopter on a “sweep and clear” operation in an area known for enemy movement. 

The government of the Republic of South Vietnam awarded Elisovsky the “Military Merit Medal” and “Gallantry Cross with Palm” posthumously.

Elisovsky was the son of Mrs. Olga Anderson and the stepson of George S. Anderson, and they were presented with his Purple Heart Medal in ceremonies in Cordova.

Elisovsky is buried in the Cordova Cemetery. At age 18, he was the youngest Cordovan in WWI, WWII, and Vietnam to give his life for his country.

The Scott River Bridge at Mile 9.2 of the Copper River Highway is named in honor of David Alen Lape, the second Cordovan to die in Vietnam.

Lape was born on Sept. 28, 1944 in Hood River, Oregon, and died Nov. 27, 1967 in a mortar attack on his base. David and his twin brother Doug graduated from CHS in 1962. They were the sons of Kelly and Violet Lape, who moved to Cordova in 1954.

In 1966, the pair went through helicopter flight school in Fort Walters, Texas, and eventually ended up together in South Vietnam at Soc Trang Airfield, assigned to the 336th Assault Helicopter Company. Both were Warrant Officers flying UH-1 Hueys, David in those being used as transports, Doug in gunships. Both flew many dangerous missions.  In fact, on one mission David had been shot down and rescued by his unit.

Doug mentioned the sad irony of the fact that after flying all those combat missions, his brother died from a mortar attack.

Married to high school sweetheart Barbara Stevenson, CHS Class of ’64, David Lape had 10 days left in his tour in Vietnam and had put in for a transfer to Alaska. He is buried at the Cordova Cemetery.

The Scott River Bridge at Mile 8.1 of the Copper River Highway is named for Warren Allen Paulsen.

Paulsen was born on Aug. 10, 1944 and died on June 24, 1969 in an artillery/rocket attack on a naval boat of the 554 River Division, PBR 8141.

Paulsen was a Boatswain’s Mate 3 in the US Navy and was serving as the forward gunner on his craft which was responding to a request to provide support for six river assault crafts proceeding up the Saigon River.

He was the adopted son of George and Lucy Paulsen of Valdez and is buried in the Valdez Memorial Cemetery.

The Scott River Bridge at Mile 7.5 on the Copper River Highway is named for Michael Dean Banta. He was born on Oct. 5, 1949 and died Oct. 2, 1970 by gunfire in battle.

The bridge at Mile 7.5 on the Copper River Highway is named in honor of Michael Dean Banta, CHS ’68. He was the last Cordovan lost in the Vietnam War. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Banta graduated from CHS in 1968 and enlisted soon after, choosing to meet the challenges of Ranger training. He served as a Private First Class in Company H, Infantry Rangers, attached to the 1st Cavalry Division.

He was the son of Robert (Bud) and Joanne Banta. The last Cordovan to die in the Vietnam War, he was three days short of his 21st birthday, and is buried in the Cordova Cemetery.

This concludes the series on Bridge names. The legacy of these Cordovans and the contributions all service men and women have made should never be forgotten.

A few years ago, we had several friends over for an end-of-waterfowl season duck dinner. Somehow the conversation turned to what instruments we played in high school band.

One of our guests modestly mentioned he played the trumpet. Pressed for details, it turns out he was very talented musician, and when called to service, ended up in the 1st Air Cavalry Division band.

In August and September of 1965, he was on their troop ships when that Division was one of the first units deployed to Vietnam.

When asked for details about his military service in that country, he quietly responded, “It was the wrong instrument to be playing.”

The 1st Air Cav included 5,600 men. Over the 10-year course of the Vietnam conflict, this division suffered more casualties than any other Army division: 5,444 men killed in action, and 26,592 wounded in action.

And during his tour, guess who was helicoptered to outposts to play “Taps” at ceremonies for soldiers just lost in combat?

Duty, honor, country. Sacrifice. And memories. On bridge signs and elsewhere.

And the eternal gratitude of a nation for all they did.


Note: David Lape and Dick Shellhorn were CHS ’62 classmates. Nine of the 15 young men in that class served in the military during the Vietnam War. Shellhorn spent 13 months of his two-year tour of duty in South Korea as a sergeant in the 8th U.S. Army.


Read parts 1-3 of this series