Land of the Free Because of the Brave
Nov 01, 2017 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle
Land of the Free Because of the Brave
AS YEARS PASS, THERE ARE FEWER OF OUR NATION’S MILITARY VETERANS THAT FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR II, THE KOREAN CONFLICT AND THE VIETNAM WAR.
They are true narrators of history and their personal memories are invaluable in understanding the sacrifices they, and others, made.
World War II
Van Kluttz has lived in the Mt. Pleasant/Gold Hill area all of his life. Born December 30, 1924, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy in 1943 – right out of high school.
In 1940, before the U.S. became involved in World War II, Congress passed a military draft that required all men between the ages of 21 and 36 to participate in Selective Service. While President Franklin Roosevelt stood at a podium in Washington, D.C.’s Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, draft numbers were pulled from a glass bowl. The numbers were handed to the president, who read them out loud as they were also written on a blackboard.
For Basic Training, Kluttz was sent to the United States Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, at Port Deposit, Maryland. He was then deployed to New Guinea and the Philippines, where he stayed for the duration of his military service. “I was a motor machinist mate, second class petty officer,” Kluttz says. “I mostly worked on the engines that propelled landing craft.”
Landing Craft Assault (LCA) vehicles were barge-like boats that ferried troops from ship to shore. They could hold a crew of four, as well as 36 soldiers. Wikipedia says, “The Landing Craft Assault’s sturdy hull, load capacity, low silhouette, shallow draft, little bow wave and silenced engines were all assets that benefited the occupants. The extent of its light armor, proof against rifle bullets and shell splinters with similar ballistic power, recommended the LCA.”
Kluttz performed his duty in what was called the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, the geographic area of operations for U.S. forces from 1941-’45. “The Japanese effort at the start of World War II was focused on conquest, warhistory.com says. “Expanding across the Pacific and the east Asian mainland, forces sought to conquer territory for the Japanese Empire and, in particular, to drive out western influences in the region. By 1941, they had expanded far south, and Australia was in their sights.”
Just north of Australia sits New Guinea. Northwest of it, you’ll find the Philippines. Japan had invaded both. Historyofwar.org says, “The New Guinea campaign (January 1942-September 1945) was one of the longest campaigns of the Second World War. It began with the easy Japanese conquest of most of the north coast of the massive island. The Japanese were pushed back across to the north coast of Papua, before the Allies began a series of campaigns that eventually gave them control of almost the entire island.”
The Liberation of the Philippines saw Americans and Filipinos partnering to defeat and drive out the Japanese forces that had invaded the island nation in 1942.
“After General MacArthur had been evacuated from the Philippines in March 1942, all of its islands fell to the Japanese. The Japanese occupation was harsh, accompanied by atrocities and with large numbers of Filipinos pressed into slave labor,” according to wikipedia.org. “From mid-1942 through mid-1944, MacArthur and Nimitz supplied and encouraged the Filipino guerrilla resistance by U.S. Navy submarines and a few parachute drops, so that the guerrillas could harass the Japanese Army and take control of the rural jungle and mountainous areas.
“Aircraft carrier-based warplanes were already conducting air strikes and fighter sweeps against the Japanese in the Philippines, especially their military airfields.”
The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan by the U.S. forced the Japanese to surrender the Philippines on August 15, 1945.
Forty-eight Navy-Marine Corps military campaigns took place in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The Philippine Islands Operation: December 1941-May 1942; Eastern New Guinea Operation: December 1942-July 1944; Asiatic-Pacific Specified Raids: February-October 1944; Western New Guinea operations: April 1944-January 1945; Manila Bay-Bicol operations: January-April 1945; and consolidation and capture of Southern Philippines: February-July 1945.
Kluttz has little to say except, “I did fight in combat – in the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, defending the beaches. It wasn’t any fun.”
Kluttz was awarded the American Area Campaign Medal, a Bronze Star, a Philippine Liberation Ribbon and a World War II Victory Medal. He was honorably discharged on March 21, 1946.
Upon returning home, he got a job as a mechanic at Coca-Cola Company, but couldn’t buy a new
car. “I wanted to buy a car to drive around in and date girls, but you couldn’t buy cars. Everything was rationed.”
As it turned out, he didn’t have to date for long. He was married to Betty for 56 years, until her passing in 2008.
By the end of World War II, about 10 million Americans had served in the military. Nearly 417,000 died.
The Korean Conflict
Earnest (Earnie) Morrissey was born on December 22, 1931, in Cortland, New York. After graduating from high school, he attended Cornell University for two years before enlisting in the U.S. Navy on March 25, 1952.
Depending on where you research, the Korean War is called the Korean Conflict. Having taken place from 1950 to 1953, it centered on the Korean Peninsula. Once a colony of Japan, the United States and Russia became the peninsula’s protectorates after World War II.
Separate elections saw the south becoming the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the north, the People’s Republic of Korea; Russia placed Kim Il Sung as its communist leader. After the U.S. and Russia withdrew their troops in 1949-’50, Kim Il Sung invaded the south.
History.com says, “On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel – the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War.
“By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them.
“Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China – or even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end; the Korean peninsula is still divided today. Almost 40,000 Americans died in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded.”
Morrissey was one of the lucky ones – lucky in that he was able to remain stateside. “I did my Basic Training at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois,” he says.
It was also where he married Marjorie, his wife of 52 years before she passed away in 2004. “It was an isolated base. Once you got there, they didn’t want you to leave...we didn’t live on the base. Then I was sent to Personnel School in Bainbridge, and then I was assigned to Navy One Warfare School. I spent 2 1/2 years there.”
The Warfare School was located at Yorktown, Virginia. Morrissey worked in two capacities on base there: school administration and officer personnel records. His wife worked at the Naval Mine Depot, in civil service.
“We had about 250 ship companies (all officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel aboard a naval vessel) permanently assigned to the base,” he explains. “At least 1,000 students rotated in and out, and courses were four to six weeks for both officers and enlisted personnel. They learned the tactical operations of mine sweepers and mine warfare. Usually, about nine mine sweepers were always on the York River, which was attached to our base.”
Morrissey had employment waiting after an honorable discharge on March 24, 1956. “I already had a
job with IBM in Personnel…I worked for them for 32 years. I was transferred here to Charlotte and retired here,” he shares.
He also completed his education along the way, getting his bachelors degree from the University of Alabama-Huntsville after a number of years attending night school. He then went on to earn his masters at Middle Tennessee State.
As for his buddies in the service, he says, “I still correspond with a person I worked with in Office Personnel Records. He lives in Texas and I still keep in touch with him. He’s had a hard time.”
The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War took place from November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975; the United States took part in the conflict from March 1965 to April 1973. The fall of the city of Saigon marked the end.
According to wikipedia.org, the war was “officially fought between North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese army was supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies, and the South Vietnamese army was supported by the United States, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies.”
What had begun as U.S. military advisement and major monetary funding during the first war – called the First Indochina War – and involved French Indochina (Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina and Cambodia), Japan and France, escalated after the signing of the Geneva Accords of 1954. It marked the end of French Indochina, a cease fire and France withdrew from Vietnam.
Confrontations in the Gulf of Tonkin between the U.S. and North Vietnam saw Congress pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. President Lyndon Johnson was thereby given the authority “to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by ‘communist aggression,’ ” according to wikipedia. “The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.”
In 1965, American soldiers became engaged in a war that came to a head in 1968 when the Communists launched the Tet Offensive. More than 80,000 North Vietnamese troops attacked 100-plus towns and cities in the hopes of overthrowing the South Vietnamese government. While the attacks were not successful, they nonetheless turned a large segment of the U.S. population against our government’s proclamations of positive progress in the war.
Prior to the signing of the Paris Peace Accord in January 1973, Vietnamization was taking place. U.S. ground troops were being brought home with the plan being to leave the fighting in the hands of the South Vietnamese; the U.S. withdrew by August 1973.
Fighting continued between North and South Vietnam until the city of Saigon fell in April 1975. The two territories were reunified the next year.
The casualties of the Vietnam War included some 966,000 to 3.8 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. In addition, about 240,000 to 300,000 Cambodians and 20,000 to 62,000 Laotians. U.S. military casualties numbered 58,220 with 1,626 still missing in action.
Donald (Donnie) Dehner was born in Florida on January 4, 1948. After graduating from high school in 1966, limited jobs would have likely meant he’d work in his father’s meat market in Pompano Beach. Instead, Dehner walked across the street.
“The Army and Navy recruitment offices were closed, so I walked into the Marines’,” he recalls. That was October 24, 1966. The draft wasn’t initiated until 1969.
Early the next year, Dehner completed Basic Training at Parris Island before going to Camp Lejeune, then Camp Pendleton in California.
“Camp Lejeune is where everyone goes through infantry training,” Dehner says. “I went to radio school at Camp Pendleton and was in Vietnam in July 1967. I was assigned as a battalion radio operator working with the Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, First Marines. I loved my job.
“In the Marine Corps, you have an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code). It’s your job junction. But your first MOS is always MOS 0311 (rifleman); when you’re out in the field, that’s what you do. Your job as a cook, clerk or radio operator is secondary. So when you’re in the infantry, you may be fighting with a platoon of cooks and clerks. And every 30 days, we got to come in and get new clothes and bathe.”
Dehner was wounded the first time during Operation Medina in October 1967. A newspaper article in the scrapbook his wife made him portrays it as taking place in Hai Lang National Forest, Quang Tri Province. On October 11, the rifle company started with 162 soldiers. They landed by Marine helicopter to set up a defense around an LZ (landing zone). The men worked their way through elephant grass to a dense jungle. Light rain fell that night.
On October 12, the troops started clearing a path that led to an intersecting path that obviously belonged to the enemy. With battalion headquarters’ approval, they used the trail. An hour later, they were ambushed by the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) hiding behind a hill, waiting. The Marines on point were killed.
From that vantage point, however, the NVA had to stand to shoot. Charlie Company hit back and the NVA broke contact after 10 minutes.
The soldiers worked hard to clear an LZ enough to get the wounded evacuated – about 50 feet in diameter. As the last chopper was leaving, the NVA initiated a ground attack. Helicopter gunners returned fire, shooting over Marines’ heads. The enemy kept advancing, eventually from three sides. Grenades landed in the LZ; the 1st Battalion responded with gunfire. NVA automatic weapons answered.
After dark, the enemy moved closer to getting inside the LZ’s perimeter. The Marines shot off illumination flares to light up the jungle and were eventually ordered to put on gas masks so tear gas could be used against the NVA. Although the Marines continued to charge, the NVA had too much firepower as well as men, and the soldiers moved back to the LZ.
Delta Company joined Charlie Company and the enemy was pushed back over the hill.
The fight lasted four hours straight. Thankfully, it didn’t rain that night. The crescent moon stayed bright and sunrise on October 13 saw the Marines caring for 42 wounded, three of them dying overnight. Medical evacuation helicopters started entering the LZ, machine gunners firing at suspected enemy. By 7:30am, resupply choppers brought much-needed ammo and water – in that order.
Because the evac choppers were needed elsewhere, Charlie Company had to remain at the LZ another night. They had dug in and were prepared. The NVA did attack again, but it was a smaller assault.
Dehner adds, “We got hit real bad in October ‘68. We were down about 60 percent. They put us right in the middle of a battalion of NVA. That’s when I got wounded the first time. I just had a pistol. Another radio operator hid under bodies because he was so afraid. From that operation on, he could never live beyond it. He ended up committing suicide. I got wounded (hand and leg) because I was running down a path with ammo and a grenade went off. I was able to get up and run on. When I was wounded, I was put in the LZ.”
Dehner was appointed Lance Corporal on March 1, 1968. He was in Kaison in April. Getting
wounded again – in June and July of 1968 – meant a plane ticket home. And he took things home from the war with him. One was claustrophobia. The North Vietnamese were skilled tunnel builders and Dehner saw the unbelievable within them, like lights and hospital beds in rooms off the main tunnel.
He also suffers from an eye condition called Amyloidosis – an effect of Agent Orange exposure. “I have a protein growth on both lower lids. I couldn’t look down. When I did, I hit the cornea. The lower lids would curl in. Doctors went through and lasered off my eyelashes. I have to go in every two or three weeks and get the eyelashes taken off.”
Agent Orange was a deadly toxin sprayed over Vietnam to flush out the enemy, among other things. Thousands of Vietnam veterans have died or are suffering from diseases and health problems due to Agent Orange.
“When we came back from Vietnam, there was no transition. You went to California, then home,” Dehner adds. “If a car backfired, you jumped. You felt guilty because you were home but your buddies were still over there.
“I don’t talk to my wife about everything, she doesn’t need to hear it. I still have nightmares. Memorial Day – all those holidays – they bother me. I carry a lot with me, of guys in my platoon that died in that battle. And some guys I knew in high school.”
Like so many other Vietnam vets, Dehner also had to deal with the backlash from his fellow Americans. “We had a deep hole to climb out of,” he says. “We’d go out to malls and guys would put tape Fonda patches. We were told not to wear our uniforms in public.”
Dehner was one of the fortunate ones, though. He had his future wife, Jean, waiting for him. And he signed on with a Florida telephone company in 1970 where he remained until retirement. He lived with his wife and children in Columbia, SC, for four years, before moving here in 1984. He lives in Midland with Jean, and they’ve purchased a motor home. They want to go to Maine next year.
Dehner was awarded three Purple Hearts for each of his three injuries. He received his honorable discharge on October 25, 1972. Today, he participates in military get-togethers at various locations in the region. “It’s therapeutic because you’re talking to guys that have been through it,” he says.
Many thanks to these gentlemen for their willingness to sit down and talk with us, and for their service. We’re indebted.
Cabarrus Magazine would also like to give a special thanks to Michelle McDonald, director of marketing for BrightStar Care, a home care and medical staffing company. As an advocate for the local senior community, she was instrumental in setting up the interviews with our military veterans at Mt. Pleasant Senior Center.
Article by: Kim Cassell
Photos Courtesy: Van Kluttz, Donald Dehner, Earnest Morrissey and Kim Cassell