Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

MIKE TARPLEY

 

 

 


101st AIRBORNE DIVISION

“SCREAMING EAGLES”

PATCH

506th INFANTRY REGIMENT

“CURRAHEES”

DISTINCTIVE UNIT INSIGNIA 


Mike Tarpley

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 Army, Vietnam

 
Mike Tarpley
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 years old.  He went through public schools and was scheduled to graduate from Snyder 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, PFC Tarpley was among a number of Fort Bragg paratroopers arriving at Fort Campbell, Kentucky 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 riflemen.  In late January 1968, 2nd Battalion was on an operation in the Aschau Valley 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 Aschau Valley 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 Saigon.”

 

The war was over for Mike Tarpley. Two days later he was flown to a hospital in Japan where in three weeks he had several surgeries. He was then medically evacuated back to the United States, to William Beaumont Hospital in El Paso, Texas.  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 Fort Hood and 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 Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Utah, and Bahrain. Everyone in the industry came to recognize Mike Tarpley’s rig from any distance because the flags of the United States, Texas, and the POW/MIA flag were always flying from the top of the rig. Meanwhile, he had established a permanent home in Big Spring, Texas 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 BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot Mike Tarpley.

 


PFC TARPLEY HOME ON LEAVE, SEPTEMBER 1967, ENROUTE DURING HIS REASSIGNMENT FROM THE 82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION AT FORT BRAGG TO THE 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION AT FORT CAMPBELL, KY

 

PFC TARPLEY
HOLDING “GENERAL PHUOC VINH”

JANUARY 1968

IN BASE CAMP AT PHUOC VINH

BUNKER AT PHUOC VINH

IN 1968

MIKE TARPLEY AND MORTAR CREW

AT Phuoc  Vinh

MIKE TARPLEY MANS THE 81mm MORTAR

SGT TARPLEY

1969 AWARD CEREMONY AT FORT HOOD

RECIPIENT OF BRONZE STAR WITH “V” DEVICE. HE PREVIOUSLY HAD RECEIVED PURPLE HEART WITH OAK LEAF CLUSTER AND THE AIR MEDAL

ESCORTING AN IRAQ WOUNDED VETERAN

ON A SHOPPING TRIP TO THE FORT HOOD PX

IN 2008

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.


 

Mike Tarpley does a lot of fantastic Patriotic work. This video is a fantastic example for remembrance of 9-11 victims.  This very moving tribute was all coordinated by our fellow Chapter 1919 Patriot - Mike Tarpley, Big Spring, Texas.

 Big Spring Texas 9-11 Memorial- Big Spring Mall 

 

Thank you Mike

John C. Burkhardt - Commander


TOP PHOTO

 

SERGEANT MIKE TARPLEY

FORT HOOD, TEXAS

1969


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