2016 saw the loss of Real Life Captain America Sergeant First Class Peter “Rupy” Ruplenas, a veteran combat photographer for three wars.
Rupy documented decades of war and popular culture.
Rupy left the world an original collection of over 40k photographs that cover decades of Hollywood celebrities like Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, General MacArthur and Bob Hope, as well as numerous combat photos taken while under fire during WWII, Korea and the Vietnam.
Two years ago, Mason, a young boy who loves to learn about history, had the privilege of spending some quality time with Sergeant First Class Peter “Rupy” Ruplenas at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC. Mason called SFC Peter Ruplenas, a Real Life Captain America! It stuck because Rupy was a Real Life Captain America!
SFC Peter Ruplenas passed away on Saturday, April 16th, 2016. He was quite a guy! He made a quite an impact on me!
I had the pleasure of following Mr. Ruplenas as a friend on Facebook for a year. Last December Rupy had gone into a Veteran Hospice Hospital on the heels of traveling to a war reunion in Korea. I wrote the following article in honor of this precious patriot.
Highlight Peter Ruplenas! 97 Year Old Veteran of Three Wars, Combat Photographer, and a Real Life Captain America!
It is with tears in my eyes that I write this post, with the purpose of highlighting the incredible life of this fine patriot!
Right now, just a few weeks after visiting Korea with fellow veterans, Peter Ruplenas is at the VA Hospice Center in WV.
While his spirits are high, his health is declining.
His son John updated us on FB this week:
“Today the ambulance took him away from the house.
He could not walk to the car without pain.
He was too weak to walk even 10 steps.
Yesterday he had a lot of pain walking.
He is very weak and has been admitted to Hospice at the VA in Martinsburg WV.
He cried so I know he is not well. He was in a lot of pain still is.”
Chances are, time is short.
Paul Ruplenas was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 5th, 1918.
In 1941, he met and married his wife of 70 years, Hazel Elena Rice. They went on a blind date and six weeks later they were married! Hazel passed away in 1986 and Peter never remarried.
Peter entered the U.S. Army that same year. He re-enlisted every three years until he retired in 1970.
While in the military, Mr. Ruplenas served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam as a combat photographer, capturing over 40,000 historical pictures, many taken while under fire.
After completing basic training, a young Peter Ruplenas completed a two-week photography course at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field in Arizona. He was then shipped off to England, where he began his service as a combat photographer with the 486th (Heavy) Bomb Squadron.
A combat photographers primary objective is to gather military intelligence. Rupy was fully trained for combat and carried a fire arm as well as his trusty camera.
He went on six bombing raids, carried out by the unit in a B-17. He was fortunate, many of those planes never returned.
After WWII, Peter came back to Boston and went to work for Gillette. It was not long, however, before he was shipped off to Japan. Two years later, we entered the Korean War.
While in Korea, Ruplenas “suffered from frostbite and was blown 20 feet in the air from a tank that exploded 50 feet in front of him, losing part of his hearing from the constant shelling around him.”
He also worked covertly with the 7th Infantry Division. They went behind enemy lines and destroyed weapons weapons wherever they were hidden. The anti-guerrilla team was known as “Rice’s Raiders” and Ruplenas received a special medal for his actions.
Peter was the third American to reach the Manchurian border and gave him the opportunity to shoot some great photos.
It was cold! He recounts:
“It went from 60 to 70 degrees when we first landed to 32 below. I worked day in and day out, hardly any days off because I loved my job.”
During this time Ruplenas was shot in the hand and received permanent damage to his back when he was thrown into a rock during battle.
After Korea, Peter Ruplenas continued to take pictures for 10 years in Japan and the Far East. He took pictures of Johnny Cash, Sugar Ray Robinson, Frank Sinatra, General MacArthur, Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, Patti Page and many others.
Then came Vietnam and Ruplenas was shipped off to Hawaii, where he began serving with Department of Army Special Photographers Organization. They spent time in Vietnam and Hawaii.
Ruplenas retired from the military in 1970, but not until after taking numerous photos for White Sands Missile Range. Throughout his career, Ruplenas also mentored younger soldiers in combat photography.
In his retirement, Ruplenas has spent his time with his son and granddaughter, thumbing through his photographs, as well as traveling to attend Veterans functions all over the country.
He has also self published three books highlighting his photography.
His latest, “Two Cameras Three Wars Korean War Edition” is available on Amazon.
…and NEVER FORGET! The many men and women, over our countries history, that served..sometimes giving their life… so that we could enjoy the incredible freedom and liberty that we often take for granted!