Cold War / Iraq

Angelo M. Capolupo

Cold War / Iraqi Freedom Oral History Interview
US Army, New Jersey Army National Guard
Date: December 11, 2017
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Morgan Thompson


COL (R) Angelo Capolupo

Angelo Capolupo was born in Binghamton, New York; and, from when he was aware of the option, always intended to join the military. He wanted to fight for his country if necessary, yet he also saw that military service would facilitate travel and allow him to see the world at no cost. As a young man, Capolupo did not have a desire to go to college, so he enlisted in the army and left for basic training at Fort Dix as soon as he graduated from high school at the age of seventeen. He always had an interest in finance and business; so, after scoring a high enough General Technical score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), he became a finance clerk.

After completing his training, Capolupo was stationed with the Third Infantry Division in Wurzburg, Germany for two years. During his time in Germany, he took correspondence classes from the University of Maryland; but, he often did not have the time to study because he had work to do on the base. This situation led to Capolupo deciding to leave the army at the end of his enlistment, and go to college so he could return with a degree and move up in the ranks. He remembered that at nineteen years of age, he wanted to become a commanding officer and, as such, be more compassionate than he had seen others behave towards their troops.

Capolupo’s service in Germany was during the height of the Cold War; and, during his interview he recalled stories of his time over there. After being selected as one of his division’s “best soldiers of the year,” he was able to take a trip to East Berlin in 1983. Capolupo and his fellow soldiers needed very specific documentation explaining why they were there. They were not armed, and they had to wear Class A uniforms instead of their usual camouflage ones. He did not feel threatened in East Berlin, and was certain that the wall would come down one day. After four years in the Army, Capolupo left to go to college.

While at school, Capolupo wanted to remain involved in the military. In 1985, he joined the New Jersey Army National Guard, as all he was obliged to do was devote one weekend per month to the military while in school. After meeting with a recruiter, Capolupo joined the 50th Division in the National Guard. While serving with the Guard, he went to school at Rider University, where he met his wife Rachel and worked part time for an accountant. Capolupo received his degree in accounting in 1989 and became a CPA in 1992. Although he remained in the National Guard and worked as a civilian for thirteen years, he missed the sense of camaraderie he felt while in the active duty military.

Capolupo spent some time stationed at the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center, where he rose through the ranks to become a major in 2000. Then he was informed that he would be deployed to Bosnia in the summer of 2001. Capolupo, along with thirty other soldiers, were chosen to perform specific duties while stationed in the Tuzla base in the Balkan country. To him, Bosnia was like a Third World country, where people were unable to take care of themselves. After fifteen days in Bosnia, he received a phone call informing him that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. Capolupo’s immediate reaction was not fear or terror, but instead that it was an accident, and that the pilot was “an idiot.” It wasn’t until after the second plane hit the tower and another crashed into the Pentagon that he realized America was under attack.

Because of the 9/11 attacks, everyone was put on a high state of alert, especially since intelligence revealed that Bosnia had once been on Bin Laden’s travel route. Because of proximity to the attacks, the New York and New Jersey National Guard soldiers were mobilized to assist in clean up and recovery, so the Bosnian mission was essentially put on the back burner. Capolupo and his men devoted their spare time bringing supplies for the children in refugee camps, and that proved a life changing experience for them all. He recalled that a typical day in Bosnia saw peacefully falling snow; and, he stated that Christmas that year was one of the best in his life, because he was able to focus on his spirituality.

COL Capolupo gives a Veterans Day keynote address.

Following his return from Bosnia, Capolupo knew the military had shifted its attention from Bosnia to Afghanistan and Iraq. He was invited to a meeting in Atlantic City. Capolupo heard rumors that the current commanding officer of his unit was retiring, and that he would become the commanding officer and be deployed to Iraq. When he finally was deployed in the summer of 2003, Capolupo wasn’t told his mission until he was already on the plane to Iraq. He was told that he needed to find a new building closer to the middle of the country, so that they would be able to transport money to the different areas across the country safely and efficiently. Capolupo was able to successfully find a building close to an airstrip, as well as a plane to transport both the money and his men, and execute his mission multiple times. In the end, he was able to transport over $1.7 billion safely without losing any of it. Capolupo considered what he did as historically significant, as no one had previously done what he was able to accomplish. He was recommended for a Bronze Star Medal.

After returning home, Capolupo stayed in New Jersey. He said he truly cannot believe all that he accomplished, but he looked back at what his father always instilled in him growing up. Capolupo was told that he always needed to work through the task at hand. He knew that no one else was going to start the operation, so that’s why he did what he had to do. Capolupo felt it was important that he put his story out there. He ended the interview by saying that he hopes his story will be helpful to others in the future. After 38 years of service, COL Angelo Capolupo proudly retired in the summer of 2019.