Charles Cupples was born in his family home in 1947 on a cotton farm in Rayville, Louisiana, in the Richland Parish. As the only child, Cupples grew up on his cotton farm and still lives there today. Reminiscing, Cupples stated, “My daddy was a great farmer and wanted me to be a farmer but growing up and picking cotton, well, I didn’t like that, so I went and enlisted in the Navy, but as soon as I got into the Navy I was wanting to come back home.” Cupples continued with a laugh and said his favorite pastime as a young man was “goofing off.”
In 1966, after Cupples graduated from high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy. At that time, the United States was active in the Vietnam War. Cupples admits that he chose the Navy after watching the old comedy sitcom McHale’s Navy, which aired from 1962-1966. However, he quickly learned that the real Navy was nothing like the show while attending boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center located north of Chicago, IL.
After boot camp, Cupples qualified to train as a helicopter pilot. Typically the training would take a minimum of six months, but with the ongoing conflict in Vietnam and the desperate need for pilots, training was done in half the time. Cupples soon found himself stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Independence in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. According to naval history, the attack carrier was 1,069 feet long and carried over 5,000 soldiers and between 70 to 90 aircraft.
Cupples was trained to fly the military helicopter better known as the “Huey” and flew the UH-1H model as a MedEvac pilot during his tour of Vietnam. According to the Military Analysis Network, these choppers were introduced into Vietnam in 1963. They were used for MedEvac, command and control, and air assault, as well as transporting materials and personnel. The UH-1H Huey that he flew was a smaller version of the well-known Huey chopper and could carry six stretchers and one medical attendant. The Huey became a symbol of the war as it made nightly appearances on the news. It was considered one of the most dangerous jobs during the Vietnam War, and most pilots were, on average, 20 years old. The Smithsonian Magazine reports that over 5,000 Hueys operated in Vietnam; around 2,500 were lost to enemy fire. The job of a MedEvac pilot was to fly rescue into a hazardous or hot zone to extract the wounded and deceased. The National Museum of the United States Army claims that the Hueys dramatically reduced the delay between injury and treatment, substantially reducing the mortality rate. Over 900,000 wounded troops were moved by helicopter during the Vietnam War. Cupples call sign during his time as a Huey MedEvac pilot was the “Red Baron.” Cupples stated,” I am no hero. I am a Veteran, I served my country, and I am proud of that, but I don’t like to talk about the details.” He continued,” I came home and had some issues with PTSD, but that was over 40 years ago, and all of that is in the past, and I appreciate that people are respectful of that.”
Once Cupples was honorably discharged in 1969, he happily returned to the cotton farm he once longed to leave. Upon returning to his hometown, Cupples became a deputy sheriff. He even participated in a few exciting chases and investigations but later developed a love for photography. He became a freelance photographer for the Richland-Beacon News. Cupples exclaimed, “I was a good photographer. I was an investigative photographer, too. I took fire pictures for about 18 to 20 years or so.” Most of his photos were of residential fires used in investigations for insurance fraud. He also took pictures for local businesses, weddings, and other events. In 2013 and 2014, Cupples took first place in a state newspaper contest for Best News Photo for Richland Beacon-News from the Louisiana Press Association Better Newspaper Competition.
After an injury to his vertebrae a few years ago, Cupples required assistance at home. Through the Pension with Aid and Attendance, he was able to receive the home care help he needed from a local agency, Caring Angels. Cupples declared, “The VA has given me a great Caregiver, Shelley Scott. She has just been wonderful to me and does so much to help me.” Cupples spoke about how his time in the Navy and his client care representative, Sarah Brown, at Veterans Care Coordination has benefitted him in his later years, stating, “Since I have gotten older, Sarah has been so good to me. I love that woman, and I don’t care who knows it.” His appreciation continued, “Micheal has been really good to me too.” Cupples even sent Sarah flowers out of gratitude for all she has been doing to support him and declared, “I told Sarah, please don’t leave me.”
On March 18th, Cupples will celebrate his 76th birthday. Nowadays, as a single man, he enjoys time with his little dog Ellie May and acknowledged, “everybody’s gotta have something to hold.” He also loves connecting with his grandchildren on social media and the occasional flea market trip with his caregiver. However, he proudly stated, “I really enjoy being at home and watching Gunsmoke on my big screen tv.”
Veterans Care Coordination is proud to recognize Charles E. Cupples for his service to our country. We are privileged to have the opportunity to share the stories of our nation’s heroes. Thank you for your service, and welcome home.