Patriot, Chapter 1919
was born in
Merkel, Texas in 1947, one
of three children in a family that followed work in the oil fields. His
mother once told him they had lived in 47 different places before settling
for good in Snyder,
Texas when Mike was eight
He went through public schools and was scheduled to graduate
High School with the
class of 1966. But, having completed all the courses needed for a diploma
except for a half semester of senior English, he got into an argument with
his English teacher and left school. Six months later, rather than taking
summer school or going back for another year, he enlisted in the Army.
Mike volunteered for the Airborne, preferring to be in the
paratroopers rather than in the regular Infantry. He entered active duty in
December 1966 and went through Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana,
proceeded to Fort Gordon, Georgia for Advanced Individual Training in
Indirect Fire-Infantry (MOS 11C), and from there was sent to Fort Benning,
Georgia to attend Airborne School.
Today, he says,
“I graduated at Benning, receiving my jump wings in mid-1967.
From there, I was sent directly to Fort
Bragg, North Carolina and assigned to my first unit, Company B, 2nd
Battalion, 504 Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, but was only there for a
couple of months. ”
In October 1967,
was among a number of
Fort Bragg paratroopers arriving
at Fort Campbell,
to fill out the 101st Airborne Division (minus 1st Brigade which had
deployed to Vietnam in 1965) in
preparation for its deployment to
Vietnam. Mike was
assigned to an 81mm mortar crew in Weapons Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion
506th Infantry (Currahees) of the 3rd Brigade. The division made the move in
December 1967 carrying out an operation that was code named “Eagle Thrust,”
that was the Army’s largest and longest distance airlift from the United
States directly into a combat zone.
The division arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base and established its
headquarters there, then quickly dispatched the 3rd Brigade to Phuoc Vinh
where they began conducting operations in War Zone D, south of Phuoc Vinh.
Shortly after arrival, Mike’s 81mm mortars were determined to be of limited
usefulness in that terrain so thereafter the mortar crews were employed as
In late January 1968, 2nd Battalion was on an operation in
when the enemy struck in TET-68. Bien Hoa Air Base came under attack and the
battalion was quickly picked up and moved there by helicopter. They set down
just to the rear of the 101st Airborne Division headquarters and ran into
the enemy barely 50 meters beyond the headquarters. After 36 hours of
persistent fighting there were 150 enemy killed in action, and it was during
this fighting (February 1, 1968) that Mike Tarpley was first wounded.
He describes it this way, “I was wounded by a hand grenade.
Shrapnel went across and through my mouth, knocking out eight of my front
teeth, top and bottom, along with some bone. They operated on me there at
Bien Hoa and basically just removed the roots of the teeth and cleaned up
the damaged bone. I was a squad leader and really did not want to be away
from the unit.
My choice was to decline evacuation for
more surgery, so they put me on profile and sent me back to duty. Eating was
something of a problem, but since we were mostly on C-rations anyway, I
traded with the other guys for cans with only soft food and got by just fine
that way. I was wounded the second time about two months later, in April
1968 but I don’t remember the exact date.
We were in the
again and Company B had been in contact and was pulling back.
My squad was out on the perimeter, as flank
guard, and we came under fire as we were on the move.
An AK-47 round took out about one-third of
my ankle and I had to crawl away under fire, unassisted because those with
me had also been wounded.
Back with the main body, I was flown out by
“dustoff” helicopter directly to a hospital in
The war was over for
Two days later he was flown to a hospital in
where in three weeks he had several surgeries. He was then medically
evacuated back to the United
States, to William
He says, "I
spent 363 days in the hospital. They operated on me, going back and forth,
five times on my ankle and about 8-12 times on my face. They wanted to
continue with some experimental surgery, but I declined to accept it.
So, in April 1969 I was sent to
returned to limited duty. I could not march or handle weapons, could not be
exposed to cold weather and had to wear special boots. That was no way to be
a soldier, so at the end of my enlistment in 1969, I was discharged from the
Army and returned home, rated by the VA as a 20 percent disabled veteran.”
Mike worked a second career in the oil fields. Starting out as a
roughneck he moved up successively to driller, tool pusher and finally as
company man on drilling rigs working in
Utah, and Bahrain.
Everyone in the industry came to recognize Mike Tarpley’s rig from any
distance because the flags of the
and the POW/MIA flag were always flying from the top of the rig. Meanwhile,
he had established a permanent home in
1991 and, he retired there after 35 years of oil field work.
Since then he has become increasingly involved in volunteer service
for veterans in several different initiatives. Upon request, in his best
Class A paratrooper uniform he provides the playing of Taps at graveside
services for veterans in his local area, does volunteer work for Iraq and
Afghanistan “wounded warriors” in treatment at the Big Spring VA Hospital,
created a memorial display for the Big Spring Mall honoring the nine men
from Big Spring lost thus far in the War on Terrorism, and he participates
in a public ceremony there on 911 each year. In 2006, he transferred his
at-large membership in the Military Order of the Purple Heart to our Chapter
1919 for the benefit of associating with a chapter. He immediately credited
the first chapter newsletter that he received for informing him of the Texas
state law that resulted in him receiving his long delayed high school
diploma (as can any Texas veteran who left high school early to serve the
military in time of war) the following spring when he traveled back to
Snyder and participated in graduation ceremonies with the class of 2007. He
remains in periodic contact with us and does good deeds in our name as a
sort of one-man Big Spring
sub-chapter for Chapter 1919. Last month he shipped us at his expense a
4-foot tall Chapter 1919 sign hand crafted in the shape of a ribbon. The
Patriot Mike Tarpley.
Mike Tarpley shows off his “Patriot of the Year” award from the MOPH
Department of Texas with chapter commander, Fred Hudgeons, also John
Burkhardt, Milt Carr and Danny Baker getting into the picture. Patriot
bulletin has often characterized Mike Tarpley as being a one man sub-chapter
in Big Spring for Chapter 1919.
Mike was recognized for his volunteer work at the VA domiciliary
and service as a committee member there and for his work and leadership in
other veterans and community service projects in Big Spring.
Mike was the originator of a 9-11 Memorial in the Big Spring mall,
and organizes a 9-11 remembrance ceremony there each year. He is on the
“Hangar 25 Air Museum” committee
that chooses and publicizes a local area “Veteran of the Month”
he frequently is asked to participate in veterans’ funerals and
graveside services, providing the playing of taps, a volunteer service that
has attracted citations from VA Chaplain Services and from the “Bugles
Across America” organization.
And, there are other initiatives, Mike doesn’t say no whenever he
sees a veterans issue arise, and he says,
“this is what
my life has become since leaving the oilfield, serving veterans.”
Living in a city that does not have a chapter, like Big Spring, does not
inhibit Mike’s veterans service and doing volunteer work in our name,
promoting our image as combat wounded veterans with the public and making
MOPH everywhere look good.