Green Bay, Wis. (WFRV) – “I was not a good student, I think out of 635 (students) I was 634,” recalls Green Bay’s Russ Tapley.
While that might have been part of Tapley’s motivation for joining the military in 1968, he also knew the draft was looming.
“I decided to join the marine corps because I figured since I was going to Vietnam, the reputation was that they had the best training,” Tapley said.
Still a California resident at the time, Tapley headed over to Vietnam with the First Battalion 26th Marines.
“Running patrols, going into villages, some was search and destroy, some was to educate the people, tell them who we were, what we were about, what we were trying to do, get rid of the Viet Cong and really try to give them their freedom,” recalled Tapley.
After his year in Vietnam, Tapley still had three years left of his commitment.
He spent that time in a training battalion, getting other soldiers ready to deploy. This set him up later on, for the move to Green Bay, and another two decades in the service- this time in the Army Reserves.
“Then I was out for 17 years and I decided to come back into the military because I figured I had experience of leadership, experience in combat, experience working with people,” Tapley said.
For another 21 years, Tapley worked as a drill sergeant, and then in training and development, mentoring enlistees to get them ready for the real deal. It was that fulfillment that kept him going.
“Those basic things; Taking care of people, showing them their responsibility, just taking care of people. That was the main reason,” said Tapley.
Tapley retired in 2010 as Command Sergeant Major, after 27 years of service.
He now belongs to VFW in Bellevue, and is involved in the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, helping Christians in need throughout the world through places like Paul’s Pantry and Golden House in Milwaukee.
“I feel more of a calling to do this, if that makes sense, but I feel more of a calling to do this, to help and support others. Because I have been blessed, I’m trying to reach out and teach others and share those blessings,” Tapley said.
Tapley won’t call himself a hero, and he might not remember all of the hundreds of young lives he’s shaped over his military career.
But he always remembers the impacts actions have on others; Perhaps a letter written to Tapley by his daughter Autumn when she was a child best sums it up; “(Autumn) was talking about what I do, my goals, how she sees me interact and things, and what I say. She took that to heart and wants to emulate that. And of all my possessions, that means the most. How we effect other people, unbeknownst to us.. Isn’t that awesome?” said Tapley.