John Tapia served more than 20 years in the Army and reached the rank of major before retiring from the military in 1965, but it wasn’t until he retired from teaching and moved to Prescott in 1983 that he joined veterans organizations such as the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
Tapia has seven Purple Hearts, three from World War II and four from the Korean War.
He was wounded eight times in the two wars often leaving the hospital before doctors released him to return to combat.
“Final evacuation of (then) Lieutenant Tapia was only successful when he was no longer capable of walking,” said his commanding colonel in recommending him for higher rank in December
“Others in my unit did the same thing. I did it out of a sense of duty and pride in my unit,” Tapia said from his home in Prescott.
Today, the local chapter of the MOPH is named after him and on Friday, Oct. 28, he will be inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame where he will join such past inductees as Barry Goldwater, William “Buckey” O’Neill and Robert Stump.
Military service was only one area of success for Tapia.
He obtained a law degree in 1961 while still serving in the Army, so he could make better decisions as an officer judging court martial decisions. “I felt I should know something about the law in that situation,” he said. “I wanted to be prepared and know jurisprudence.”
Tapia said he didn’t really want to practice law but the avid reader had law books in his foxhole during the Korean War.
“I read books to become a lawyer like Lincoln did,” Tapia said.
After leaving the military, Tapia received his doctorate from the University of Utah with honors in Spanish and Comparative Literature, which lead to a university teaching career in Illinois and Michigan before he accepted a one-year position at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.
“I was only supposed to be there a year but they made me chairman of foreign languages and I ended up spending 12 years there.”
While in Durango, he also became the newspaper’s poetry editor in addition to writing poetry of his own.
He befriended Western writer Louis L’Amour in Durango where the two shared a love of writing and poetry.
L’Amour published books of poetry in addition to his famous Western novels.
In a 1982 letter to Professor Tapia, L’Amour said he always wanted to write a perfect sonnet.
Tapia has published several books of poetry and a textbook on Spanish theater that is still in use today.
He took a creative approach to bringing attention to local issues in Durango by assuming the character of “Anymus Vali Jack” (Durango is in Animas Valley) in letters to the editor in which he used a fractured English vernacular of deliberately misspelled words.
When he retired, Tapia and his wife, Bertha, moved to Prescott.
Tapia met his wife in high school in Ajo in the early 1940s. “My wife always wanted to live here,” he said of their move to Prescott in 1983. “Every day here is like a vacation.”
Tapia didn’t slow down when he moved to Prescott. He got involved as a precinct committeeman for the Republican Party and served as chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Party from 1989-91.
Today, at 83, the modest Tapia says he doesn’t “have time for anything but helping my buddies” and sending quarters with historical information about the states they portray to children across the country.
The day after receiving the award from the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame, Tapia will be at the Wal-Mart, 1316 W. Iron Springs Road, from 1 to 4 p.m. where he and other members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart will be collecting donations for ROTC scholarships.
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