The Quietest, Strongest Marine Hero I knew
Read and enjoy all your News Digests about our outstanding Marines, their families and friends. I would just like to mention another great Marine, an unsung hero of mine and many others, TSgt Donald J. Lupo, formerly of Detroit, MI. Perhaps other subscribers to your News Digest knew him as well, whether from World War II or Korea, and I’d like to hear from them. Especially if they are aware of any surviving members of Lupo’s family (I don’t think he was married), as I have several pictures of Lupo I’d love to share with them. I first met Don in May 1952 when, also a TSgt, I joined him as one of the three ATA Section Leaders in Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Korea. (The third section leader was TSgt Glenn Corbett, and our Platoon Leader was Lt. Hammond).
Don was a WWII veteran with maybe as many as four Purple Hearts from the Pacific campaigns. Though not a particularly big man, he was rugged and powerful, and one of the strongest men I’d ever met. I actually saw him pick up the front end of a 6-ton truck, and of the several pictures I took of him, I have one of him carrying me and another Marine (Cpl. Dick Feldman) on his back. Don always wore a big smile, and not only went to Catholic Mass every time it was available, but would practically grab me by my “stacking swivel” to go with him, ready or not. I saw him angry once, when someone I will not mention by name got into a dispute with him involving Don’s ATA Section. Everyone, except this guy, knew that Don defended his men unequivocally and forcefully, and with little or no effort, Don picked this guy up and tossed him the length of our tent! No more arguments, ever!
While we were on the MLR, both Don and our platoon leader suffered very minor wounds while on a patrol. Don was so embarrassed with his (I recall it involved his thumb), that he did not want to accept a Purple Heart for it. But he was in formation a few days later when an assortment of awards were presented, and both he and the Lt. had Purple Hearts pinned on them. We kidded Don for a long time about his “wound,” but more often than not he was usually the one that sheepishly brought it up, agreeing with our good-natured harassment.
Don was great at training new replacements and even seasoned veterans in Weapons Company, whether it was in mine clearance, heavy machine guns, mortars or 3.5″ rocket launchers. I personally learned a great deal from him, especially his leadership abilities. Except for that one, very rare “dispute” I mentioned above, Don was overwhelmingly friendly and a highly respected individual, especially by those who knew him on a daily basis, including his ATA Section and the men in the Battalion’s three line companies that our ATA sections supported. He was a cool, calm and collected Marine who many of us said had no fear, at least none that we ever saw or sensed.
I knew Don for most of 1952, while with W-1-5 and later H&S-1-5. I lost touch with him when I was reassigned to 1stMarDiv Hq. and then E-2-5 in March ’53 when OP Vegas was taking heavy casualties and the call went out for volunteers. Don remained with W-1-5 and I heard several versions of what happened to him. But after all these years, I met two former W-1-5 vets on the internet who served with Don after I did, and finally learned exactly what happened to him. Former Marine Karl Gross, also wounded while with W-1-5, remembers Don and has great respect for him. Ralph Fly, was the Navy Corpsman in Lupo’s platoon and was with him when he was hit. Fly was in Korea Nov.’52 to Nov.’53, and was with W-1-5 on the MLR, then went to Battalion Aid and finally to Easy Med. Fly told me he “was with Gunny Lupo when he took an almost direct hit from a 60. He seldom wore a flack jacket while on the MLR and he took multiple serious wounds. As much as I wanted to and hard as I tried, I could not save him. He died a few days later after being evacuated. He was my hero and I thought he was the greatest of all Marines. I considered him my best friend. The legend was that he had already received 8 purple hearts. Gunny taught me, a Navy Corpsman, a lot about weapons and how to read military maps. Gunny really loved being a marine and he was a good teacher. Gunny was a man that had absolute confidence in himself. If he was ever fearful, he never showed it” Ralph Fly was thrilled with the picture I sent him of Don Lupo, saying he would treasure it forever.
I guess it goes without saying that not every Marine has to win one of the big medals to be a hero. In fact, almost every one who earned the Medal of Honor or Navy Cross gave magnificent credit to Marines like Don Lupo, who were heroes in so many other ways to so many of us. I am attaching a photo of Don and I taken in mid 1992 (Don is on the left). Semper Fidelis, Marines. and God Bless Don Lupo, Marine hero!
Gerald F. Merna
1stLt USMC (Ret.)
Potomac Falls, VA