His Great Love: Spec. 5 Earl Tharp Jr.


His Great Love

by Jane (Tharp) Woodruff

EARL WATSON THARP JR. is honored on Panel 9W, Row 97 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


Earl Watson Tharp Jr. was born on Oct. 3, 1949 to Earl and Billie Tharp. Nineteen months later, on May 17, 1951, Stephen Wayne Tharp was born. I was the last child, born September 20, 1958.

Earl got the baby sister he wanted when I was born. Even though there were nine years between us, we had a bond that defied our age difference. He faithfully loved me and made me feel wanted. I always knew I was special to him. Likewise, he was very special to me. I thought he was great—strong, handsome, generous, patient and kind. I felt safe and secure with him.

Earl was a natural mechanic. In his pre-teen years, without my parents’ knowledge, he took apart a Victrola and put it back together. In his teen years, he was an avid motorcycle rider. He was eager to work in high school to save up money for his own car. He could do most of his own repairs on both vehicles.

Earl and I had great fun going on motorcycle rides. He would take me to the Martha Washington Ice Cream Parlor for a treat, just the thing for his 10-year-old sister.

Earl was strong. One of my fond memories is of him challenging me to hit him in the stomach as hard as I could. When I did, I felt like I was hitting a wall. I was so impressed with his strength.

Earl was handsome, and the girls knew it! He would always make sure that his girlfriends treated me well. I think some of them thought I was part of the package and treated me like a little sister.

Earl was generous. While he was in Vietnam, he sent me, his 11-year-old sister who was broke, money to buy Christmas presents. The last letter he sent me, which arrived after his death, included $40 for me to spend however I wished. To me that was a fortune—and a final demonstration of his selflessness.

Earl was patient. I remember when I was five years old, he spent hours with me while I was learning to ride a bicycle, running behind to keep it balanced.

Earl was respectful of authority. He was offended by attitudes and acts of those who participated in anti-war protests. While in Vietnam, he became disillusioned with how our leaders were handling the war, but he maintained a respectful attitude.

My brother was kind. He faithfully wrote letters, always eager to hear news from home. He sent Christmas cards to friends, some of whom were elderly. He and my brother Steve were particularly close. They played together, worked together and were the best of friends. Earl loved hearing all the latest news from Steve, be it college studies, car repairs or finances. When Earl died, Steve not only lost his big brother, but he also lost his best friend. 

When Earl graduated from high school, he promptly enlisted in the Army and served with Company B, 229th Aviation Battalion (Assault Helicopter) (Airmobile). He wanted the people of Vietnam to have the freedom we had. He wanted the children of Vietnam to have a better life than their parents.

He was only in Vietnam for a few days before he began counting the days until he would be home.

Given his mechanical skills, it was no surprise to find out that he would be a helicopter gunner, and, subsequently, crew chief overseeing maintenance of a helicopter. He took his job very seriously, knowing that a faulty engine could cause the deaths of his comrades.

Earl’s fellow soldiers gave him the nickname “Preacher” because of the example he set and his faith in Jesus. My brother expanded his capacity for love while in Vietnam. On June 26, 1970, he demonstrated this with honor when his base came under heavy rocket and mortar attack.

Earl made it to the protection of a sandbagged bunker. But when he saw that a friend caught in the open fire had been seriously injured and was unable to get to cover under his own power, Earl ran through a barrage of exploding rounds to help. Before he could carry his wounded friend to safety, an exploding round mortally wounded him. He died a short time later.

In the Bible, John 15:13 says: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

My brother died carrying a friend, not firing a gun. He laid down his life for a friend he knew less than two years.

He is a hero. I honor him for his great love.