Soldier Scrapbook -Two Generations of American Service. By: Antony Purpura. Sgt. John F. Purpura, WWII (1916-2002). &. SSgt. John S. Purpura, Vietnam War (1944-present). Sgt. John F. Purpura World War II. A Brief History…
By: Antony Purpura
Sgt. John F. Purpura, WWII
SSgt. John S. Purpura, Vietnam War
A Brief History…
July 1st, 1940: The U.S. Selective Training and Service Act is passed by Congress.
September 16th, 1940: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs it into law. All males of the age 21-36 were required to register for the draft. My grandpa registered at his old Grade School in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA at the age of 24.
December 7th, 1941: Pearl Harbor is bombed by Japanese forces. My grandpa remembered hearing the announcement on the radio.
December 8th, 1941: President Roosevelt declares “WAR ON JAPAN!” The U.S. enters World War II.
April 22nd, 1942: Grandpa says goodbye to his family and is shipped to Camp Cumberland, MA. After testing and physicals, he was drafted into the U.S. Air Force and sent to Will Rogers AFB in Oklahoma City, OK.
The base was on Red Alert because a Japanese Mitsubishi Bomber flew overhead and began to drop bombs on the base! Grandpa was walking along the service road on the west side of the runway when it happened.
Amidst the chaos, Grandpa ran down the service road, turned a corner into a road that cut into the runway brush, and discovered a plane on the runway with a fiery cockpit. The pilot was still inside, waving his arms over his head.
By the time grandpa jumped up on the wing and tried to pull the pilot out by his shoulders, the flames had died down and filled the air with smoke. He grabbed the pilot’s parachute harness and hoisted him out of the cockpit; it turns out his oxygen tank had blown up and it badly burned the upper part of his body.
He helped the pilot towards a nearby ambulance. Setting him down, he tried to open the ambulance doors; they were locked on the side he was on. He ran around the front of the ambulance and, turning a sharp left, fell face-first into a foxhole, which knocked him out. When he came to, the ambulance was driving away and the pilot was gone. It later turned out that the pilot he saved was actually a lieutenant. The lieutenant sadly died the following day.
For the longest time, many didn’t know who saved the pilot…
His act of bravery during the incident was never documented in his Allied papers because they got misplaced in the confusion and weren’t updated.
In 1994, inquiries were made as to who rescued the pilot from the burning plane. Grandpa said it was him and his claim was confirmed by witness accounts along with testimonies from members of his squadron who were still alive at the time.
While he was too late to receive any decoration for his act, the Air Force Personnel Center informed him that he was entitled to receive the Asiatic Pacific Medal, one Bronze Service Star, a Good Conduct Medal, an American Campaign Medal, and a World War II Victory Medal.
My dad enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on August 24th, 1962 (18 years old at the time). He got sworn in at the Pittsburgh City Courthouse. He made his dad proud.
Dad was not stationed in Vietnam; however, he was sent there several times for Medical Air Evac, deployment of troops, and the transportation of supplies.
Dad was stationed in Dover Air Force Base located in Dover, DE (1607th Air Terminal Squadron).
The purpose of his squadron was to resupply the American armed forces overseas by transporting various types of cargo across the world.
In addition to Vietnam, he did “sorties” all across the European mainland.
One of his duties as a loadmaster involved managing the transportation of mail from Vietnam to America and vice versa, which was very important (No internet and no telecommunication satellites at the time).
He was also in certain places of the Mediterranean Basin, which included Egypt and the Middle East (at the time of the Six Day War).
He was part of a group that airlifted the families of UN workers out of Southern Africa during the South African Border War.
Honorably Discharged March 23rd, 1967
Fun Fact: There is a C-124 on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden. You can see it from the highway!
“Old Shakey” was the nickname of the Douglas C‑124 Globemaster.
The C-124 was in operation from 1950 to 1974.
My dad says it was a 14 day round trip between Dover AFB, Delaware and Tan Son Nhut AFB, Vietnam in “Old Shakey.”
The C-124, once the backbone of the USAF cargo transportation service, was later replaced by the C-141 Starlifter, which cut travel time almost in half.
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