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Billy Wayne Rapp
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Billy Wayne Rapp

"Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it."


Billy Wayne Rapp was born to John and Maggie Jane Elswick Rapp on May 30, 1947, in Hookersville, Nicholas County, West Virginia. Later in his childhood, his family moved to Buckhannon, Upshur County, an area of West Virginia rich in its history of mining and its Methodist foundation. During the time of his adolescence, major industry had left Upshur County. A local lumber camp had closed 20 years prior and more coal mines were shutting down. Many events like this caused a massive outward migration from Appalachia.

Billy had seven siblings: Laura, John, Linda, Russel, Betty, Sherry, and James. Billy attended and graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School in 1966. More than likely after high school, Billy made his way to Godby in Logan County, West Virginia, as this place was listed as his home of record when he enlisted in the Army.

During World War II, Vietnam was invaded by Japan. This invasion, in addition to the French Colonial administration in Vietnam, resulted in the creation of the Viet Minh, also known as the League for the Independence of Vietnam. Led by communist political leader Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh sought to fight off their occupiers. In 1945, the Japanese withdrew from Vietnam following their defeat in World War II. The Viet Minh then saw their chance to overthrow the French administration and took control of the city of Hanoi in the Northern part of Vietnam. The country soon became split into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North (DRV), and South Vietnam to the South.

The United States began constricting its policies on Soviet allies as the Cold War intensified across the globe. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared his support for South Vietnam. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy sent a team to report the conditions in South Vietnam, resulting in an increase of U.S. military presence in Vietnam. In August 1964, DRV torpedo boats attacked two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Following the attack, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon B. Johnson broad war-making powers. U.S. planes began frequent bombing raids, codenamed Operation Rolling Thunder. ("Vietnam War," History.com, 29 October 2009, 28 February 2020, accessed 6 May 2020, https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history.)

Billy Wayne Rapp never married and did not have any children. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 24, 1966. His military occupation specialty (MOS) was 95B-Military Police. After completing his training, he started his tour in Vietnam on August 26, 1967. He served two tours of duty as a member of the 1st Military Police Company, 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. During his second tour, Billy served with a man named Glenn Moore in Binh Duong, Vietnam.

According to Moore, Billy had been in Vietnam before he [Glenn] arrived in November 1968. The military police (MP) in Vietnam had various responsibilities; however, Billy and Glenn were given a special task. They were part of a mobile resource control team (MRCT), where they were each paired with another MP and a Vietnamese MP, whom they would pick up in the mornings after they left their secure compound. Billy Rapp worked with Clifford Taylor, who was from Tennessee. A total of six teams left the compound daily, and most of the time they worked separately, never having any contact with other U.S. troops all day. They used a Jeep armed with an M-60 machine gun along with M-16 rifles and .45 caliber pistols. Glenn recalled that the Jeep's radio never worked. Each team would set up check points and check Vietnamese civilian traffic for the Viet Cong and contraband. Glenn shared that the most exciting times were when people would turn around to avoid the check points. Then the chase was on, which took them into several dangerous encounters and chases into the rice paddies and villages.

At the end of the day, the MPs took any detained Vietnamese to impound areas where they were processed. The U.S. troops would then return to the compound. After eating and preparing for the next day, the teams would occasionally get together to share stories about their work and homes. Glenn recalled that Billy wanted to be a West Virginia state trooper and Clifford was looking at playing professional baseball when they returned home.

On March 21, 1969, the teams were summoned together. It had been reported that Billy, then a sergeant, and Clifford, a corporal, had been ambushed and killed earlier in the day. They had left the compound mid-afternoon and headed west several miles to a small fishing village that was on the banks of a river where the road stopped. According to the report, Billy and Clifford had turned around at the river and were leaving the village when they stopped so that the Vietnamese policeman could pick some bananas. Billy and Clifford stayed in the Jeep waiting for him to return. They were found still seated in the Jeep, Billy slumped over the dead radio. They'd been shot numerous times, taking fire from a hut that was approximately 50 feet away. The Vietnamese policeman had been shot in the legs as he fled the scene.

Only a day earlier, Billy had been passing a football with a fellow soldier who said Billy's death changed his perspective on the war. Having felt their efforts were meaningless, he then realized that it mattered, and Rapp's death mattered.

Months later, Glenn heard that the Viet Cong that killed his friends had been killed in an ambush. They had Billy and Clifford's .45 pistols and documentation of receiving extra rations of rice for the ambush on Billy and Clifford.

Sgt. Billy Rapp's remains were recovered and returned to the U.S., where he was later buried at Mt. Olive Cemetery in Hinkleville, Upshur County, West Virginia. He is memorialized and remembered on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Panel 28W, Line 2, in Washington D.C., and at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston, West Virginia.

On February 18, 2010, the West Virginia Legislature introduced House Concurrent Resolution No. 2, wherein they directed the renaming of the French Creek Bridge on State Route 20 as the "Sergeant Billy W. Rapp U.S. Army Memorial Bridge."
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

According to the HonorStates.org website, Sgt. Billy Wayne Rapp's commendations included the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Presidential Unit Citation, and Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation. ("Billy Wayne Rapp," accessed 6 May 2020, https://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=293953.)

Sgt. Rapp is a true American hero, and he will always be remembered for the ultimate sacrifice to his country by his surviving family members and fellow soldiers.

Article prepared by Caitlin Thomas and Virginia Cook, George Washington High School JROTC
May 2020


Billy Wayne Rapp

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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