Retired Combat Cameraman Calls Photographing Three Wars 'A Beautiful Job'
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2003 Being a combat photographer in three wars was "a beautiful job," said Peter Ruplenas. "It was dangerous as all hell, but we were too busy to be scared."
Ruplenas started honing his photography skills with 8th Army Air Corps during World War II. In September 1950, he photographed the Inchon landing and didn't leave the Korean War zone until May 1951. After assignments at several posts in the years that followed, he became a combat cameraman with the Department of the Army's special photo office from 1966 to 1968.
A special photo team from that office did 90-day temporary duty assignments in Vietnam, he noted. "I was 48 years old the old man, except for the colonel, who was older than me," said Ruplenas.
The 84-year-old survivor of three wars was in Washington July 27 for the Defense Department's recognition of the 50th anniversary of the armistice that brought about a cease-fire to the Korean War. He also witnessed the dedication and unveiling of a U.S. postage stamp honoring the Korean War Veterans Memorial and those who fought and died in the "forgotten war."
"I just came to see if I could find any old friends," said Ruplenas, a resident of Gerrardstown, W.Va. "I found many of them who were in the same outfit with me. I didn't know them and they didn't know me, but it was like a reunion to see guys that went through such a helluva war together.
"I was living in Florida when the memorial was dedicated in 1995 and didn't make the trip here for the ceremony," he noted. "But I read articles about it and said, 'It's about time.'"
Ruplenas said he resents the fact that some young Americans are growing up unaware of what happened in Korea. "They don't realize that if it wasn't for the Americans and all the other allies, Korea would be strictly communist now and maybe Japan might have been hit," said the aging combat veteran.
Ruplenas joined the Army about six months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and retired as a sergeant first class in 1970.
After the war started, Ruplenas' outfit moved to Dover, Del., and then to Miami, where they flew on B-18 bombers on anti-sub patrol. They trained on B-24 bombers at Davis- Monthan Field, near Tucson, Ariz., before flying to England around April 1944 to hook up with the 8th Army Air Corps.
Ruplenas recounted how he got his Purple Heart in Korea. He said that one day, while taking pictures with a buddy, he saw three infantrymen pinned down behind a rice paddy dike by enemy fire. "So we ran up and started talking to them and one of the guys said the enemy was up there, but we can't see where he was," Ruplenas said.
"So being stupid, I told my buddy to mind the cameras. I used to run track and field, long distance, so I zigzagged about 50 yards and ducked down in the rice paddy. I put both hands up in the air, raised my head and looked left to right, and they shot at me. I ducked down and crawled a few feet, the other way. The last time I was up, my right hand was slow coming down, so I got hit right in the palm.
"I was trying to find out where that S.O.B was so the infantry could shoot mortars or some heavy firepower at him," Ruplenas said.