CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
John A. Chlapowski
Vietnam War / Cold War / Desert Storm
Date: December 16, 2015
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Savannah Hobbie
John A. Chlapowski was a Jack-of-all-trades in the US Army. During his army career he was, at various times, a radio operator, a radio teletype operator, a helicopter door gunner, a Morse code intercept operator, a Platoon Sergeant, a First Sergeant and a Command Sergeant Major. Drafted in 1966, Chlapowski initially served from 1966 to 1968, during the Vietnam War. He returned to the service in 1970, and served until 1994. He deployed to South West Asia as the Brigade Sergeant Major for the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He also served two overseas assignments in Germany during the height of what is known as the “Cold War” with the former Soviet Union.
Chlapowski, born and raised in Massachusetts, was drafted in June, 1966, at the age of 19 and sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training. At Fort Dix, it became apparent that he had damaged eyesight in one eye; and, he was offered a discharge for medical reasons, but he declined and opted to remain in the service. After basic training, Chlapowski was transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia to attend the Signal Corps’ Radio Teletype Operator School.
While at Fort Gordon, Chlapowski’s records became lost; and, when he received orders to go to Vietnam, he was told that he would be placed on a “hold” status, since he could not proceed on orders without records. Knowing that this situation would not change without intervention on his part, he made his Company Commander aware of his situation – who, in turn, offered to drive Chlapowski around the post to the various offices to recreate the records, which allowed him to proceed on his orders to Vietnam. On arrival in Vietnam, Chlapowski was assigned to the 48th Assault Helicopter Company, at Phan Rang, which is in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. After approximately 3 months, the company relocated to Ninh Hoa, in the Central Highlands of the country, which was also the base camp of the Republic of Korea’s 9th Infantry Division. Chlapowski served as a “door gunner” on a UH-1 Huey helicopter during this time, and his diverse duties included transporting troops, flying resupply missions, transporting wounded soldiers and providing fire support to infantry soldiers as they were inserted on the ground during combat assaults.
During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Chlapowski witnessed a number of unfortunate events, including a language miscommunication that led to the death of a Korean soldier during a mortar attack on the base, as well as a Korean soldier blew himself up rather than return home to his family in disgrace after being court martialed for theft. On one occasion in October, 1967, Chlapowski’s helicopter was hit multiple times by enemy ground fire, wounding one of the pilots and puncturing the fuel tank. The fuel began to leak from the helicopter while it was in the air, creating a dangerous situation, but the aircraft landed safely. In March of 1968, Chlapowski returned to the United States and was discharged. He rejoined the army in 1970.
In June of 1971, Chlapowski returned to Vietnam and served for two months at Phu Bai, where he was assigned to assist a short-handed Army Intelligence unit which was engaged in the intercept of enemy Morse code traffic. He then served in Taiwan and Japan as a Morse Code Intercept Operator for 4 1/2 years. While Chlapowski was in Japan, the Vietnam War ended, and he returned to the United States in 1975.
On his return, Chlapowski had assignments to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Devens, Massachusetts, followed by an overseas assignment to Augsburg, Germany. After Augsburg he was transferred to Schofield Barracks Hawaii, where he served as a first sergeant for 2 ½ years. Chlapowski was then selected to attend the Sergeant’s Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon completion of that schooling, he was assigned as a Command Sergeant Major of an Aerial Exploitation Battalion stationed in Wiesbaden Germany. Upon his return to the United States, Chlapowski was assigned to the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade, which, shortly after his arrival at Fort Monmouth, deployed to Saudi Arabia to provide intelligence support to the United States 3rd Army during Operation’s Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Following his retirement from active duty, Sergeant Major Chlapowski was hired as an Intelligence Research Specialist for the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he continued to provide support to soldiers until the closure of the fort and his subsequent retirement from government service in 2011.