ST. JAMES — A St. James High School graduate was among the National Guardsmen who died Thursday in a helicopter crash near St. Cloud.
James A. Rogers Jr., 28, was one of three soldiers killed when a National Guard helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from the St. Cloud National Guard aviation facility. Rogers; Charles P. Nord, 30; and Kort M. Plantenberg, 28; were conducting a routine maintenance test when the crash occurred.
Rogers, who lived in Winsted, was born on June 23, 1991, in Madelia and graduated from St. James High School in 2010, according to a biography released Saturday by the National Guard.
As a student, he participated in tennis, theater and chorus, among other activities. St. James High School Principal Karla Beck, who was Rogers’ music teacher from 8th to 12th grade, said the young man embodied the school’s core values of courage, respect, integrity and compassion.
“We want every graduate to have that, and those four words describe everything you need to know about this young man,” she said.
St. James students recite the Pledge of Allegiance each Monday morning. Beck said she plans to honor Rogers during Monday’s pledge, adding the community is proud of his military service.
“It was a privilege to be his teacher, and I hope his family understands and knows that we will support and surround them,” she said.
Les Zellmann, Rogers’ high school tennis coach, recalled Rogers’ passion for the military as evident even as a student. He said Rogers was talented enough to advance to state as a senior, but was called away for training during the section tournament.
“He was a great young man, (had a) big heart,” he said. “He definitely was what we call an impact person.”
Rogers came from a military family — his mother and sister served in the Air Force, Maj. Nathan Burr, the unit’s former commander, told the Star Tribune. His father, Jim, also served in the Air Force and the National Guard, while grandfather, Donald, served in the Marines and great-grandfather, William, served in the Navy during World War II.
His buddies nicknamed him “Little Known Fact James” because he reveled in sharing tidbits of information with his fellow soldiers.
“He had no limit to his knowledge,” Burr said. “Every time you flew with him, you never knew what you’d talk about … We always wanted to fight over James for our trivia team.”
Rogers officially enlisted on June 5, 2009, while still in high school, as a field artillery specialist. As a chief warrant officer two who piloted Black Hawk helicopters, he completed a nine-month deployment in Kuwait in May, according to the National Guard.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who represents the St. James area, offered condolences to Rogers’ family in a statement.
“My heart breaks for Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rogers, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nord, Sgt. Plantenberg, and their families,” Rosen stated. “This tragic accident is a sobering reminder that in their world, even routine tasks are dangerous. All of Minnesota is praying they, and their families, can find peace.”