Dedicated to the Preservation of the
U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Harlan C. Nupen, Lt. Colonel, USAF (Retired)October 30, 1936 – May 01, 1988
Services for Harlan C. Nupen, 51, Rapid City, will be 10 a.m. Friday at Osheim-Catron Funeral Home with the Rev. Tim Purcell officiating.
Nupen died Sunday, May 1, 1988, at Bryant. Burial, with military honors, will be in Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis. Visitation at the funeral home will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
A memorial fund has been established for his children.
He was born Oct. 30, 1936, at Hudson to Clarence and Honore Nupen. He grew up and attended schools at Bryant, Hayti and Lake Norden.
He served in the Air Force from August 1958 to August 1978. Nupen retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During his military service he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan, Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, and Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. He returned to Ellsworth in 1970. Nupen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with 12 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Vietnam Service Medal with 9 Bronze Stars.
He was a member of the National Rifle Association and the American Legion. Nupen also collected coins.
He married Colleen Brown in 1958. They divorce in 1983. He married Dora Dallas in 1986. Survivors include his wife, Dora of Rapid City; four sons, Jamie Nupen, Jonathan Nupen, Joshua Nupen and Jeremy Nupen, all of Rapid City; three daughters, Valerie Wynn of Joplin, Mo., Monae Johnson of Rapid City and Amber Davids of Huron; five brothers, Howard of Lakewood, Calif., Clifford of Kent, Wash., Arnold of Hayti, Curtis of Piedmont and Larry of Aberdeen; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and one brother.
South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial“Tales of the Vietnam War From The Veterans Who Lived It.”
H.C. Nupen was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement during the Tet Offensive of 1968. On Feb. 1st, Nupen was in Ban Me Thuot during the enemy invasion. He was able, along with another gunship, to lift-off and see that an entire city block, containing 125 Marines, was completely surrounded and was sure to be overrun. With extremely accurate rocket launches and repeated mini-gun passes, through heavy automatic weapons fire, Nupen and the second gunship were able to drive the enemy from the area and were given full credit for saving the lives of the U.S. Marines.
Nupen’s second Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded while flying in support of a long range reconnaissance patrol. The patrol came under heavy attack by hostile forces. Nupen didn’t realize that the mini-guns were malfunctioning until in full attack position. Despite the malfunction, he flew in over the enemy making it look like he was going to fire and drew the attack towards him. These dry firing passes diverted the attention of the enemy away from the patrol. Learning that the hostile force was within 100 meters of the troops, Nupen made a highly accurate rocket pass that disorganized the hostiles and allowed another helicopter to rescue the patrol.
Nupen completed over 1500 sorties, including assisting in a rescue of a downed F-100 pilot in Cambodia. In 1971, the Nupen brothers initiated a memorial scholarship fund at SDSU honoring the school’s graduates killed in Vietnam. This scholarship is still in existence today.
The following Hall of Fame nomination resulting in Harlan C. Nupen being inducted in the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame.
South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame 424 Aviation Place Spearfish, SD. 57783 April 25, 2004 Dear Sirs, Please accept this nomination of Harlan C. Nupen for the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame. I hope to show within this letter, and the accompanying documents, that Harlan Nupen was a devoted pilot and a servant of freedom who constantly showed personal courage, professional excellence and a total commitment to his country and fellow man.
Harlan was born in Hudson, South Dakota on October 30, 1936. He grew up on a farm just west of Lake Norden where hard work and being a ‘man of your word’ was instilled within him. It was during his college years at South Dakota State University where others saw within Nupen qualities of leadership and military potential.
With encouragement from professors and friends he joined the Arnold Air Society, an advanced Air Force ROTC organization. Upon graduation from college, Nupen entered active duty in the United States Air Force and received his pilot training at Vance Air Force Base near Enid, Oklahoma. Throughout the next eight years he was trained to fly KC-97 Refuelers, KC-135’s, B-52 Bombers and ultimately the air machine that brought out the defining moments in his life, the UH-1F Huey Helicopter. UH-1s were the backbone of Air Assault forces during the Vietnam War. The 20th SOS (Special Operation Squadron) Green Hornets were the only unit that used these types of helicopters in Vietnam. Both the UH-1F and UH-1P helicopters were equipped with 7.62 mm mini-guns and rockets. This SOS unit, of which Nupen was a part, was sometimes used for classified missions into Laos and Cambodia. Due to the classified nature of their missions, these Huey’s carried no markings other than their serial numbers and a Green Hornet insignia on the tail boom. Before being assigned to Vietnam in 1967, Nupen completed a considerable number of aerial flights into the rugged and hazardous terrain within the Rocky and Glacier Mountains. It was during this time he learned what his tent mates in Vietnam referred to as “coming in low, hot and close to the trees.” During his command within the 20th Special Operation Squadron, he taught this technique to new pilots coming into the unit. According to Nupen’s colleagues, it saved the lives of many pilots, gunners and soldiers.
Nupen was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement during the TET Offensive of 1968. On February 1st, Nupen and his crew were awakened by an enemy invasion of Ban Me Thuot. He commandeered a Jeep and fought his way to the helicopter pad. Nupen and another gunship were able to lift off and see entire sections of the city were occupied by the enemy. An entire city block, containing approximately 125 Marines, was completely surrounded and was sure to be overrun. With extremely accurate rocket launches and repeated mini-gun passes, through heavy automatic weapons fire, Nupen and the second gunship were able to drive the enemy from the area and were given full credit for saving the lives of the US troops.
Nupen’s second Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded while flying in support of a long range reconnaissance patrol. The patrol came under heavy attack and was surrounded by the hostile forces. Nupen didn’t realize that both mini-guns on the airship were malfunctioning until they were in full attack position. Despite this malfunction, he flew in over the enemy making it look like he was going to fire on them and drew the gun fire towards him. These dry firing passes changed the attention of the enemy away from the patrol. Learning that the hostile force was within 100 meters of the troops, Nupen made a highly accurate rocket pass that disorganized the hostile force and allowed another helicopter to land and rescue the men.
Nupen completed over 1500 sorties during his one year term in Vietnam, including assisting in a rescue of a downed F-100 pilot in Cambodia. Nupen often wrote of his devotion to country and his mission in Vietnam. One letter stated, “…when I’m airborne on a mission, (I think) of what I’d miss if I didn’t come back…Its great incentive to fly and fight my best.”
In 1971 Harlan Nupen and his brothers initiated a memorial scholarship fund at South Dakota State University honoring the schools graduates killed in the Vietnam War and all men and women who served in Southeast Asia. This scholarship, still in existence today, selects its freshman recipients based on their actions of patriotism and need. During the 1972 flood in Rapid City, Nupen flew many search and rescue missions for those caught up in the disaster and he shuttled numerous local, state and national dignitaries over the damaged flood area. Harlan Nupen retired from active military duty in 1978 at Ellsworth Air Force Base. During his 20 year military career he earned and was awarded the following medals and citations: Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster Air Medal with twelve oak leaf clusters Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters Presidential Citation Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor and two oak leaf clusters Air Force Longevity Service Award with four oak leaf clusters National Defense Medal Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Vietnam Service Medal with nine bronze stars Meritorious Service Medal Combat Readiness Medal with three oak leaf clusters RVN Cross of Gallantry with Palm and four bronze stars Vietnam Campaign Medal.
After a stellar career in the Air Force, Nupen became part owner of the Rushmore Range where he acted as a Marksmanship Instructor for rifle, pistol and shotgun. He was committed to teaching young and old the true meaning of the ‘right to bear arms’ concept and the proper manner to handle this responsibility. He was a lifetime member of both the National Rifle Association and the South Dakota Shooting Sports Association. Nupen participated in and won numerous area competitions.
Harlan also continued his academic education and in 1980 obtained a Master’s Degree in Education, with a major field of study in Counseling, Guidance and Personnel Services from South Dakota State University. At this time he opened Black Hills Counseling and began accepting patients. The business operated until his death in 1988.
Harlan C. Nupen passed away on May 1, 1988 and his interment is at Black Hills National Cemetery, Sturgis, South Dakota. With his exemplary Air Force flying career, and his continued efforts to promote good citizenship and patriotism in those around him, Harlan C. Nupen is a worthy candidate for the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame. Thank you for your consideration, Valerie Praytor Daughter of Harlan C. Nupen
Harlan C. Nupen served in Vietnam from November 19, 1967 through November 2, 1968 as Sq. Pilot UH-1F, 20 Heli. Sq., Nha Trang AB, RVN (PACAF). The unit was redesignated as the 20 Special Operations Sq in 1968. (This information was provided from the National Personnel Records Center.) From Vietnam he was assigned to Clark AB in the Philippines as Wg. Pilot and then Senior Coordinator of the 6200 ABWg. We lived on Clark AB for two years. Harlan passed away on May 1, 1988 of a heart attack.