Former classmates of a Billings Central High graduate and U.S. Army lieutenant whose remains were positively identified this week after being missing for nearly 40 years are working to set up a scholarship in his honor.
1st Lt. Paul G. Magers was killed in action in the Vietnam War 1971 when the AH-1 Cobra helicopter he was flying was shot down over South Vietnam. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donald L. Wann, of Oklahoma, also died in the crash.
Soldiers couldn’t look for their bodies at the time because of nearby enemy forces, and their remains were not recovered until 2008 and 2009.
Magers was a 1963 Central grad, and his fellow classmates are creating a scholarship to honor him.
“Our class is pretty close — there were about 100 of us — and Paul was one of them,” said classmate Zenda Koch. “By the time our tenth reunion came around, he wasn’t there. I know there are a lot of people out there who want to do something and this provides them an opportunity.”
Although the final details and amounts haven’t been worked out, the Paul Magers Scholarship likely will be awarded to one student attending Central each year. Jan Haider, director of the Billings Catholic Schools Foundation, which will manage the scholarship, said a typical scholarship involves an endowment of $10,000, with the interest providing about $500 annually for the scholarship.
“Every year for their class reunions, they honor Paul in some way, but there was never any closure,” she said. “But now there will be.”
Koch said that earlier this year classmates started reminiscing about Magers again, months before his remains were identified. She remembers a smart, active student with a big smile who, over the years, came to mean a great deal to the remaining classmates, especially those that also served in Vietnam.
“Then when his remains were identified, it’s just miraculous, isn’t it,” she asked. “There are some of us who were in the war and say, ‘I returned, scarred as I might be, but Paul didn’t.’”
While the money hasn’t yet been raised for the scholarship, the group is working on it, and the public is welcome to contribute as well. They are also creating a plaque in Magers’ honor to display at Central.
“He had an enthusiasm about learning that we want to keep alive,” Koch said. “He was enthusiastic about every-thing, whether it was a pep assembly or dissecting a fetal pig.”