What Ever Happened To Pappy
Written by: Neal Novosad, Friend
Sergeant First Class Howard "Pappy" Upchuch was a member of Casper Platoon in 1967. This story was written by his friend Neal and tells about Pappy's life after he returned home from his tour in Vietnam.
While searching the internet today, I came across the Capser website. I was actually just killing some time and did a search for the name of an old friend of mine, Howard C. Upchurch. My search directed me to your site where I found a photo of Howard with the caption,"Capser Platoon Sgt. Howard "Pappy" Upchurch & Door Gunner Joe Wood after a convoy from Tuy Hoa Dak To 1967. No doubt, that is a picture of the Howard Upchurch that I knew.
Anyhow, I don't know how well you guys remember Howard or if you knew him at all, but I thought you might, so I'm writing to share with you my memories of Howard Chester Upchurch.
I met Howard in 1988 down in Lajitas, Texas. He was living in a travel trailer on the banks of the Rio Grande River. I was about 22 years old and Howard was in his early 50's. I was introduced to him by my girlfriend who had known him for a few years. On first meeting him, I immediately knew that I was in the presence of someone pretty special. Didn't know quite what to make of him at first, but I was interested in getting to know him better, so I stuck around and became his friend.
Howard liked to drink large amounts of whiskey and chain smoked Marlboro Reds. He was living down in the west Texas desert and had nothing but time on his hands and drinking money in his pocket, so Howard and I ended up spending quite a bit of time together, drinking, talking, and looking for adventure in the desert. He told me stories of his life. As a young child, he worked with his father on west Texas ranches as a cowhand. He told me about how his military career started and went on to tell me countless stories of his years in southeast Asia. I spent many long hours, just spellbound by Howard's stories.
Down there on the Texas-Mexico border, where Howard was living at the time, there was a community of people who all dismissed Howard as a lying old drunk. Nobody believed any of the war stories he would tell....they said he just made that shit up and had concocted it all from novels he had read. I, on the other hand, knew that Howard was shootin' straight with me. I never doubted him. Who the hell could make up such wild stories and expect people would believe it if it weren't the truth? Besides, he showed be his bag full of photographs, his medals, his documents, and other souvenirs he had collected in southeast Asia. There was never any doubt in my mind that Howard did absolutely everything he ever said he did and surely much more.
I knew Howard as one of my best friends for many years, right up to the time that he died. At one point, Howard broke up a fight in his travel trailer in which a guy had walked in the door and started kicking a sleeping man in the head. Howard jumped out of bed and pushed the intruder out the door. The guy came back in and Howard pushed him out again. The dumb bastard came back in one more time and Howard pulled out his Webley .455 and shot him in the hand....the bullet traveled up his forearm and blew out his elbow. Some other people rushed the guy to the hospital and Howard went back to bed. A few days later, Howard heard someone yelling his name in the dark, outside his travel trailer. He stepped outside and was shot in the ankle by someone yelling about "shooting my friend". Howard ran to his Lincoln which was parked nearby, got his Webley out from under the seat, and dropped the guy in the river. He then drove to my house and layed up for a few days. Then he went back down to his place and was approached by the sherrif's deputy who asked him if had had anything to do with the body they found floating in the river. Howard told him that he certainly did and described the incident. It turns out the guy he shot was wanted on all sorts of criminal charges in several states and Howard was cleared of any wrong-doing. Howard informed the local deputy that he would be armed, from now on, wherever he went. He said,"you law dogs can't protect me, so I'll protect myself". The deputy told him that he couldn't condone him carrying a firearm in public, but that he would do the same thing if he were in Howard's shoes.
Shortly after that, Howard came and stayed at my house for several months. He drank a lot of whiskey and told me countless stories.....all of them true, I'm convinced. During this time, Howard started having some dental work done. He had been shot through his cheeks by an AK47 and many of his teeth had been shattered. The local dentist had heard of Howard and told him that it would be an honor for him to work on his teeth and proceeded to do all of his dental work at no charge. Pulled all of his teeth, a couple at a time, over the course of a couple of months, and then got him a set of dentures.
Then Howard went back down to the River for a while. While he was down there, he went into a bar with a pistol in his boot. There was a guy in the bar who was out to get Howard and he complained to the bar owner that Howard was carrying a firearm inside the bar. The bar owner called the law and had Howard arrested. He spent the next few months in jail in Alpine, Texas. I was on his visitor list and went to see him frequently while he was there. Once he got out of jail, he purchased a used motor home and moved up to Monahans, Texas where he lived for several months.
After his stay in Monahans, he came back down to Alpine to visit for a while and even went back down to the river where he was informed by the law that he could stay for a brief visit, but was not welcome to stay any longer than that. So, Howard told me he was going to disappear for a while. Didn't tell me where he was going. He said people would be looking for him and that it was best if I didn't know where he was. He said, "it's easier for me to know where you are than for you to try to find me". I didn't see Howard for quite some time, and yes, people came looking for him, but I didn't know where he was.
He did finally show up at my house again one day. I had gotten married while he was gone and he came and stayed with me for a few days and met my newly pregnant wife. That was the last time I saw Howard. He took off in his motor home and went to live at Paleface Park on Lake Travis, near Austin, Texas. His sister lived nearby and he wanted to be close to her. We did talk by telephone several more times, but I never saw him again.
One day, I got a telephone call from his wife. They were still married, but they hadn't lived together in years. She told me that Howard's sister had found him dead in his travel trailer after he had failed to show up for lunch with her. She told me that Howard had recently spoken to her and directed her in what to do when he died. He told her he didn't want a funeral or memorial service and didn't want his death reported in the paper. He told her that she should call me and inform me that he had died and to tell nobody else. He said to her, "Neal will know which of my friends to tell and my enemies don't need to know that I'm dead". So, that was the end of a fantastic life. He died in his bed, with a book in his hand. His last meal had been Popeye's fried chicken and Bartels & James wine coolers.
I know a lot about Howard. I was fascinated by his life and the stories he told me. I don't speak of him often because there are simply no words that can adequately describe a man like that. I've tried to tell people about him, but I always find that I'm at a loss for words to paint a good image for them. Besides, just like the people who called Howard a liar, I find that people are in disbelief when I try to tell them that I knew this man who did all these things he told me of. Therefore, I choose to simply remember him as I knew him. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I know he was who he said he was.
I suppose I'm writing to you guys because I'm remembering him today and I, after viewing your website and seeing his picture, I feel like you guys will probably be the only people who would understand or even give a shit. If any of you have any memories of Howard that you'd be willing to share, I would love to hear it. I have lots more memories of him that I might share with someone who cared to hear it. I think I might even have a photo or two that you guys might like to see.
Howard pretty well drank himself to death. Although he had slowed down at the end and was only drinking wine, the damage from the whiskey had been done. I'll never forget the time he stayed up watching tv all night long with a bottle of Jim Beam. He would drink for a while, pass out, talk and scream in his sleep (in some dialect I didn't understand), and would then wake back up and start drinking again. Then next morning, as he was puking in my front yard, he said to me, "Don't ever let anyone tell you that drinking yourself to death it not an honorable way to die; it's goddamn tough!"
I hope I've not offended anyone with my unsolicited account of my friendship with Howard C. Upchurch. Just thought that perhaps some of you might have known him and be interested in how his final years played out. If you'd like to know more, I would probably be willing to share more accounts of some of the incredible things I saw Howard do in his final years.
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This site was last updated 05/15/06