JOSEPH ANTHONY “HERK” NAPERKOWSKI JR
October 3, 1950 – August 17, 2019
Joe’s parents, Joseph Anthony Naperkowski (1917-1986) and Marie Francis Gutkowski Naperkowski (1928-1984) were both born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania the children of Polish immigrants. They were married on June 12, 1947 in preparation for the arrival of their son Joseph Anthony Naperkowski Jr. to become known in the Ranger Community as “Herk”. As the chill of Winter approached in the coal county of Wilkes Barre, the warmth and joy of a first-born son came to the Naperkowski home on October 3, 1950. In post-war Pennsylvania, the recovery took longer than in many places of the country. It was often said that they had nothing but each other. It was a close Polish Community that remained steeped in their traditions and customs.
Sports played a big part of his early life and continued until relegated to being a spectator instead of a participant. In 1963, Joe started displaying his baseball prowess by becoming St. Joseph’s Little League’s Home Run Champion. In 1964, he was Luzerne County’s marbles champion. From 1967 through 1969 he played both baseball and basketball at Wilkes-Barre Township High School, named All-Scholastic in both sports. He led Wyoming Valley in basketball scoring with a 33.5 average, scoring 1,309 points in two and a half years, making him the leading scorer in the history of Wilkes-Barre Township High School.
Duty to country forced him to trade the brilliant green of a baseball diamond for the big bad dangerous jungles of Kontum Province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Herk probably could have sat home with draft deferred status on a sports scholarship, but the Polish kid from Wilkes Barre never considered that an option. Herk volunteered for the LRRP / Rangers of the 4th Infantry Division and was assigned to K. Co., 75th Rangers. Shortly after Col. Hal Moore’s Ia Drang experience depicted in the movie “We were Soldiers Once”, the 1st Cav. was replaced by the 4th Infantry Division. The stated mission was to “Tame the Ia Drang”. One of the first decisions made by command was to determine how best to know and locate the enemy before engaging them. The solution was to insert 4-man teams of Rangers, then called LRRPs, to surreptitiously live in the jungle amongst the enemy. Herk was one of the LRRP / Rangers who were tasked with the mission of seeking out the enemy. In an effort to unify the command of the various Division LRRPs, all were absorbed into one unit, 75th Rangers. The 4th Division LRRPs were all designated K Co., 75th Rangers. Joe distinguished himself as an All-Star LRRP, as he did with every competition he was involved in. He was a Ranger others could depend upon in all situations. He patrolled with several teams in late 1969 through late 1970 earning the respect and gratitude of men who dole that out to very precious few and only those who earn it. We would like to say the Central Highlands were a little safer after Herks year, but that wouldn’t be true. We, however, can say with certainty there were considerably fewer enemy combatants lurking in the jungle due to Joe and his brother Rangers. In a senior staff briefing attended by our Commanding Officer Captain Kim Olmstead, MG Pepke, C.O. of 4th Division stated to all the other unit commanders “The Rangers are out-killing the entire division”.
Herk was awarded the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge as well as various other awards and decorations when he left the danger and returned to Wilkes Barre. It never looked so beautiful and he never left again. Soon after returning to “the world”, Joe married the beautiful Lynda Naperkowski and they had 6 children, Gina, Dori, Dina, Ashli, Joseph and Lydia.
He returned to what he did so very well, in peacetime. Herk played Sunday baseball in the Central League as catcher for Heights, Hilldale and Georgetown teams. In 1971 he was offered a baseball contract to play in the Rookie League in Florida for the Cincinnati Reds by scout Al Caputo. From 1971-1972 he played for coach Jim Atherton at Luzerne County Community College and had a 23-1 record, the team winning the Championship. From 1986-2001 Joe was PA and United States Bench Press Champion with a lift of 578.5 lbs., and also an unofficial 600 lb. bench press at Nanticoke Area High School. He was featured in Power Lifting USA Magazine. He was honored by hometown Wilkes-Barre Township with a resolution by Mayor Bob Delescavage. 1997-1998, he won the PA Karate Championship at Keystone Games in Harrisburg. In 1999 he won the United States karate Championship at the Scranton Catholic Youth Center and was named Best Black Belt Fighter in the tournament. He was named grand Champion by winning all five flights at the Tang Soo-Do Tournament and was featured in Black Belt Magazine.
He was enshrined into the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Joe never entered a quarrel without the expectation of winning. His opposition frequently learned not to challenge him. A local volunteer Fire Chief who Joe learned had slandered him learned that lesson well. In addition to receiving a monetary settlement from the Chief, it was later learned the Chief was pilfering funds from the Fire Dept Coffers and was ultimately convicted of the crime. It is never a good idea to get into a pissing match with a Ranger.
Joe died in his sleep on August 17, 2019. There is no doubt it had to be that way, for death would have had no chance of taking this Ranger otherwise. Rest in Peace brother.