SONORA, Texas – In October 2021, Navy veteran Ray “Yogi” Yourgalite and his wife Rachel were killed in a motorcycle accident on Ranch Market Road 3130, about 20 miles from Sonora.
On Veterans Day, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association unveiled a plaque in their memory.
Ray and Rachel’s children were present as well as family members who flew in from out of state.
More than $10,000 in donations were raised by multiple groups and donors. All of the money was given to Ray and Rachel’s children.
Below is an excerpt of Ray’s biography read at the ceremony:
Yogi enlisted and went to Navy boot camp on Aug 22, 1989. After boot camp, he attended Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic school to learn to maintain naval aircraft. After that, he was assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron-14, known as HM-14, in Norfolk, Virginia. The aircraft assigned to HM-14 that Yogi maintained were MH-53D “Sea Dragon” helicopters.
Yogi’s combat journey began in 1990 when he embarked with HM-14 on the USS Tripoli, assigned as the Navy’s flagship for counter-mine operations as part of a 100-ship naval force in the Persian Gulf. This was in the days leading up to Operation Desert Storm. The Tripoli was tasked with conducting mine-sweeping operations to clear a 20-mile wide path leading to the
beaches of Kuwait, believed to be for Marines to conduct an amphibious landing as part of a ground invasion to repel Iraqi forces.
In the early morning hours of 18 Feb 1991, the Tripoli was locked-on by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile site operating in Kuwait. The Tripoli diverted to get out of missile range but in doing so steered into hazardous waters. At 4:36AM, while diverting to avoid a potential Silkworm missile strike, the Tripoli instead struck an Iraqi anti-ship mine on its starboard bow, near the right front. Yogi joked that the early morning explosion was the “best alarm clock ever”. The crew said it rocked the entire ship and the Navy doctors reported providing medical attention for over 30 sailors. The ship initially reported that 2 sailors went overboard, though no one died so that was either erroneous or they were pulled out of the water. One of Yogi’s shipmates reported being thrown from his rack and landing on the floor on his head, and then nearly suffocating from the fumes and gun powder smoke coming down the passageway. Apparently a paint locker had taken a direct hit by the mine explosion and had caught on fire, causing smoke and fumes to spread through part of the ship. The explosion left a 16 x 25 ft. hole in the side of the ship, flooding a diesel engine room, and rendering the vessel “dead in the water”. With no way to navigate, many of the crew was worried the ship would drift into another mine. Their fears were justified because less than an hour later, the USS Princeton, just 10 miles away, struck a mine. The Tripoli and Princeton became the first two US ships to strike mines since the Civil War. Helicopters from other ships arrived and located and marked half a dozen more mines. To compound matters, Kuwait’s oil wells had been set on fire to disrupt US forces visibility in anticipation of a US invasion and the skies over the Persian Gulf were blanketed in thick black smoke. Another of Yogi’s shipmates said the ship had to turn on its nighttime lights at 10 in the morning, and Yogi said he did not see the sunlight for days. Despite these conditions, and fearing further mine explosions, the crew stayed at General Quarters conducting damage control and performing hasty repairs to the ship. After twenty long hours, the damage was under control and the ship was back underway. The crew was now eager to continue their mine-sweeping operations; however, the fuel tanks needed to fill the helicopters had been damaged in the mine blast and they were unable to continue their mission. So after seven days, on 25 Feb, the Tripoli proceeded to Saudi Arabia to cross-deck the men and equipment of HM-14 onto the USS New Orleans.
At this point, you might think their danger was over; but you’d be wrong. The ground invasion had just gotten underway the day before, on 24 Feb, with Iraq launching missiles at US and Allied forces based in Saudi Arabia. The crew of the Tripoli went from a combat zone at sea to pulling into port within days of the start of the ground war of Desert Storm. While docked in Saudi Arabia, Yogi and several of his shipmates later reminisced about having to scramble due to air raid sirens signaling inbound Iraqi ballistic missiles being launched toward them.
Finally, after transferring HM-14 to the New Orleans, the Tripoli proceeded to Bahrain for permanent repairs and the New Orleans, with Yogi embarked, returned to the Persian Gulf to continue mine-sweeping operations. Captured Iraqi naval charts later revealed the Persian
Gulf was one big minefield containing over 1000 anti-ship mines, and Yogi and HM-14 remained as part of the mine-sweeping force responsible for clearing them long after the ground war was over.
For his actions, Yogi earned the Combat Action Ribbon. The Combat Action Ribbon is not a unit award and not every sailor onboard the Tripoli received it. It is a personal award and each sailor is nominated based on their actions and satisfactory performance in a combat environment. Yogi also received a Navy Achievement Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and the Kuwait Liberation Medal. Yogi decided not to remain in the Navy after his 4-year enlistment and ended his active-duty service as a Petty Officer Third Class on Aug 21, 1993.
Read more about the dedication here:
Memorial Marker Dedication
Now, our Chapter Commander, Chris, will uncover the marker. Chris led the design and coordination to have this memorial made. He chose pictures of Yogi and Rachel he felt represented them the best to have etched into the granite. If you are following along in the handout, the pictures are included on page 5 along with a picture of the marker. What is first apparent to me is Rachel’s big smile and Yogi’s long white beard. In her picture, Rachel is wearing a red dress with a pendant of a cross hanging around her neck. Simple, yet elegant and beautiful. For Yogi’s picture, Chris chose one in his leather vest. We knew Yogi as a man of few words, best known for his famous “Yessir” response to just about anything you said to him. Just like his words, he wore few patches, but ones that had strong meaning for him. Yogi wears the mascot of his unit, HM-14, a Red Horse Head, on the lower right side of his vest. Opposite that is his Combat Action Ribbon patch, close to his heart. One he wore with pride and immediately caught the attention of fellow combat veterans. The only other patches are his name, the 23-12 chapter scroll, and the American Flag. In addition to the images of Yogi & Rachel, Chris added the US Navy emblem that Yogi was proud to have served. He also added the 23-12 logo and our motto “Vets Helping Vets”; something Yogi strongly supported.
CVMA Chapter 23-12 Guidon Memorial Streamer
Like the military units in which we served, we carry a flag called a guidon that represents our chapter and its members. We carry the guidon to chapter functions as well as state, regional, and national-level meetings of our members to represent our chapter here in West Texas. Chris will add a memorial streamer bearing Yogi’s name and member number to our guidon. We will carry Yogi with us everywhere we take our guidon from now on.
Donations received in honor of Yogi & Rachel
We’ve continued to receive donations in Yogi & Rachel’s name. They have been made by Yogi’s 1989 high school classmates at Hoopeston East-Lynn High School in Illinois and from the leadership, management, and employees of Yogi’s company Epic Permian Operating as well
as another company called Precision Compression. Those donations were provided to help us continue with our mission of assisting our fellow veterans and their families, because they knew that Yogi was passionate about our mission and they wanted to help in Yogi’s name. We are truly grateful for their generosity. We also received three Benevolent Fund donations from our CVMA® National Board of Directors, the CVMA® Texas Board of Directors, and our own Chapter 23-12 members. We also received a collection taken up by our fellow CVMA® members across the state of Texas who passed a hat at our state meeting last month. In total, we have received $10,728.00 on behalf of Yogi & Rachel.
Our chapter discussed how we might best use these donation to assist our fellow veterans and their families, and we unanimously agreed that all funds donated in Yogi & Rachel’s name should go to their children. For us, Vets Helping Vets is about family. Every one of us believes that if the circumstances were reversed, Yogi & Rachel would want the donations to go to our children. Chris will provide envelopes to Liam & Megan containing donations. We realize that money is very little consolation in these circumstances, but wanted them to have it.