Missouri veteran gave up college life to serve in one of the largest military escalations of the Vietnam War

by Alisa Nelson, Missourinet

STE. GENEVIEVE – From dodging bullets to getting shot down in a helicopter, a Missouri U.S. Army veteran said fighting in the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War still feels surreal to him. Bill Tlapek, of southeast Missouri’s Ste. Genevieve, served in the infantry in 1968.



“Which was, unfortunately, the worst year for casualties,” he told Missourinet. “I was going to summer school, junior year, Southeast Missouri State University. And I always tell everybody that when I got drafted, I was a long-haired, girl-chasing, beer-drinking Corvette-driving college student, and six months later, I was dodging bullets in Vietnam.”


More than 58,000 U.S. military soldiers were killed during the Vietnam War.


“It’s still to me, it’s very surreal to talk about it with you, because it sometimes doesn’t even seem like it happened. It’s one of those things that you can’t imagine what it’s like. I mean, I guess it would be like trying to imagine what a firefighter goes through when if there’s a horribly burning building to try and save somebody,” he said.


He lost a friend, Rich, when the helicopter they were in was shot down in Vietnam.


When he returned to Ste. Genevieve, Tlapek said he went back to driving Corvettes.


Today, Tlapek is a volunteer at Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial in Perryville, which includes a full size replica of the Vietnam War memorial wall in Washington, D.C.


“I’m no hero. All I did was what I was supposed to do. The heroes are all on the wall out there,” said the modest Tlapek.