91-year-old WWII, Korea veteran recalls war experiences

With a little more than one million World War II veterans left in the United States, Veteran’s Day celebrations have become more and more significant. Army Air Corps veteran Joe Tarpley spent 20 years in the military, including dedicated service in three wars.

Tarpley, now 91, reported for active duty as a young 20-year-old cadet with the Army’s aviation program in 1943. In later years, he was recalled to active duty with the Air Force in Korea and Vietnam.

“As I look back at my 20 years in the military, I stand tall and proud,” he said. “My military service had a profound influence on the years that followed when I served my own family and my community.”

During World War II, Joe and his B24 Liberator crew flew combat missions against German targets from a small base only about 10 miles inland from the North Sea in England. Soon after the Battle of the Bulge, his crew was poised to become battle-ready with the much larger B29 Superfortress.

“But then the good news came,” he said. “The war with Japan was over. Most of us were assigned training functions until our return to inactive status in late October 1945.”

During the next six years, he taught school in west Texas and did graduate studies under the GI Bill. First, he taught at two high schools for a total of three years, then began teaching at Hardin-Simmons University, and then at a Texas junior college.

In June 1951, as the war in Korea was heating up, Tarpley was recalled to active duty with the Air Force as an education specialist. He served on the staff and faculty of the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., for five years prior to a one-year assignment to the Iceland Defense Force at Keflavik as a training officer.

Next came a three-year tour in the Pentagon where he served as the initial project officer for an upgrading of the ROTC law governing both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

In 1967, as Tarpley approached retirement as a lieutenant colonel, he received orders to report for duty with the Seventh Air Force at Tan Son Nhut Air Base just outside of Saigon. He served as coordinator of the Civic Action Division at 10 air bases in South Vietnam.

“We were on the cutting edge of nation-building,” he said. “In a nutshell, we helped the local community help itself. It turned out to give me the highest job satisfaction I experienced in my 20 years of active duty.”

In April 1968, Tarpley retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel. He spent the next 18 years as a member of the English faculty at San Antonio Community College.

After his retirement, he “caught the writing bug,” he said. The result was 17 books and booklets, including both fiction and nonfiction.

Tarpley and his late wife, Martha, were married 58 years before her death in 2013. He moved from San Antonio to Calder Woods this past April to be closer to his family, who live in Beaumont.

Calder Woods will pay tribute to all the veterans on Tuesday morning at 10:30 with a military salute, a flag ceremony and patriotic music.

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