A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Salute to Veterans: Cuban Missile Crisis offered Dick Luper first real taste of war

To honor those who have served our country in the military, KyForward has joined with a UK School of Journalism advanced journalism class taught by Dr. Michael Farrell for a series of stories on veterans and their personal experiences. We hope these stories provide insight for all of us and give special meaning to the celebration of Veterans Day.

By Neal Querio
Special to KyForward

Dick Luper is a man whose entire life was altered just by chance.

Dick Luper (Photo provided)

Dick Luper (Photo provided)

Luper is one of 2,039 veterans living in the small town of Sedalia, Mo., which has a population of 21,387, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. His time in the 101st Airborne Division led him to Kentucky and his close encounters with Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Luper was born in Florence, Mo., around the end of World War II. His parents, Bonnie and Gilbert Luper, had two children after Dick, a son and a daughter.

Luper and his siblings grew up during the Cold War. However, the fear of Communism never reached the Luper household. He said that his parents were not political people and would not even know what a Communist was.

When Luper was 6, his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother and siblings to the countryside of Sedalia.

Luper’s mother remarried in 1962 to Thomas Jinks, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. Three more children came from their marriage.

At 18, Luper dropped out of high school in 1961 and enlisted. Two years later his brother Ed volunteered.

Luper’s basic and advanced training took place at Fort Leonard Wood near St. Robert, Mo.

“I think the average person who goes into the military is more disciplined. They tend to be nicer toward their fellow man. That’s a part of being a solider,” he said.

He joined the 101st Airborne Division in the fall of 1961 and was stationed at Fort Campbell near Hopkinsville.

The 101st Airborne Division played a significant role in the fighting of the Vietnam War. Many of the men were stationed at the border between North and South Vietnam, where the majority of the heavy fighting occurred. The last major battle between the U.S. and Vietnam occurred during a 23-day battle between the 101st Airborne and the North Vietnamese, known as Firebase Ripcord.

Luper saw none of this fighting. He spent most of his time in Hopkinsville or in Bowling Green while on leave.

The Cuban Missile Crisis offered Luper his first real taste of war.

The crisis came about after Soviet forces were spotted building nuclear missile sites in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade on Cuba and issued a statement that Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev was to remove and destroy the missile bases or the countries would go to war. Neither leader wanted a nuclear war so Khrushchev complied.

Luper reflected on his almost deployment to Cuba and explained that his division was on the runway ready to fly out.

Looking back on that moment in his military service, Luper said, “I’m sure 70 percent of us didn’t have any idea where Cuba even was or why we were going to go there to try and defend the place.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis never culminated in an actual battle, but for Luper it was a too-possible reality.

“It took me 40 years to realize how close we’d come to a real war,” reflected Luper.

Luper had the option to reenlist in 1964 but did not want to commit for two more years. This proved to be a pivotal decision for Luper.

If he had re-enlisted, Luper would have joined his brother, Ed Luper, in Okinawa, Japan. Ed was part of the 174th Airborne, which was one of the first forces dispatched into Vietnam.

His stepfather served in Vietnam and all of Dick’s wife’s brothers spent time over there as well.

Luper has a sense of humor when it comes to his time at Fort Campbell.

He joked during the interview, “If we had $3 we drank all the wine; if we had five we went to Bowling Green.”

His grandson and University of Kentucky student, Sean Loomis, recalls a family trip to Hopkinsville. He said that his grandpa teased them about possibly running into a child of his down there.

“He likes to joke about his party times, but deep down I know that he took his time in the military very seriously,” Loomis explained.

These days Dick lives with his wife, Valmeta, in Sedalia next door to his stepfather on their 50 acres of land. His two daughters and their families still reside in the town as well. He passes his time rebuilding classic cars and spending time with his family. He even drew up the floor plans for the home of one of his daughters.

“My pawpaw was the one who inspired me to become a history major,” Sean Loomis said. “He is the smartest man I know.”

Thousands of soldiers lost their lives in Vietnam, but for Dick Luper fate had a different plan.

Neal Querio is a journalism student at University of Kentucky.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment