Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Larry J. Thompson
Born December 22, 1946 In Webster City, Iowa
United States Marine Corps and United States Navy Seabees 
Vietnam War Veteran

Times were difficult, and jobs were hard to come by in the post-World War II and Korean War-era for Larry Thompson’s family. Thompson said his dad found work south of Fort Dodge, IA so the family moved down there. “I started at South Junior High School, but quit after ninth grade, Thompson recalled. “I tried to get a job myself but couldn’t. I turned 17. So, I thought I might as well join the service.”

He signed up with the United States Army, passed the physical but said he didn’t pass one of the written tests, so they turned him down. “I went back to the Army recruiter who asked if I really wanted to join the military. I said yes, and he told me to wait a minute. He brought in the U.S. Marine Corps recruiter and by April (1964) I was in Marine boot camp at Camp Pendleton, San Diego.”

Thompson’s first duty station was in Okinawa, Japan. Coincidentally that is where his father fought as part of the U.S. Army against the Japanese during fierce battles in World War II.  Thompson was with the 3rd Marines Engineering Battalion, in support of the 3rd Marine Division. “My M.O.S. (military occupational specialty) was a combat engineer. We built things, did construction and I also trained with high explosives to blow up tunnels,” he remembered.

In 1965 the Marines sent Thompson to many areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including the Philippines and Thailand. “We left Thailand and went to Bangkok. As we headed back from time on leave, we got our orders to head to Vietnam,” he said. “We were in Da Nang helping move a combat field hospital closer to the front lines. My job was carrying the wounded off of incoming helicopters. That’s were I saw my first dead guy,” he admitted.

Thompson did two tours with the Marines in Vietnam. “Every time I was over there it got worse and worse,” he said. He was honorably discharged and returned home 1968. “Then, I was talked into signing up for two-years in the Navy Seabees with my brother.”

Again, Thompson headed to ‘Nam. “We were five-miles from the DMZ (demilitarized zone),” he said. “That’s how close I was to North Vietnam.  Our jobs included sweeping roads for landmines, clearing them for convoys of supplies,” he said. “I had some close calls during my 3rd tour,” he added. “One time we found a boobytrapped mine. It was so powerful it blew up half the road.”
Thompson was also stationed at the U.S. Marines air base at Chu Lai where he had another very close call. “There was an incoming enemy rocket. We were running to our bunker and we could hear the rocket coming in when it hit. We were all knocked to the ground. I saw a buddy get killed and lots of others wounded,” he said. “That was too close of a call.”

The Iowa native got out of the Navy in 1970 and came back home to the Hawkeye state. “I still support our troops. But I can understand my dad’s point of view on war. He was a U.S. Army WWII veteran and Purple Heart recipient,” said Thompson.

Thompson re-entered civilian life and landed a job at Universal Manufacturing Company in Algona, Iowa, an automobile parts re-manufacturing firm, now known as ReTech. He worked for them for 34 years. “Now I’m 100-percent disabled because of Agent Orange,” he said. Thompson and his wife of 48 years, Karen, both live in Ringsted, IA.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Joseph Johnson
Born in Kossuth County Iowa in 1931
U.S. Army Korean War-Era Veteran

Life on the family farm was hard in the late 1930s and early 1940s for Joseph Johnson. Born in the doctor’s home, Johnson was one of four children, including three brothers and one sister. “I went to a country school until 8th grade,” he recalled. “My dad died in an accident when I was 9 years-old.”

 The family had a hired farmhand helped run the farm near Bancroft, Iowa until he quit. “At 16 years-old, I had to take over the family farm operation.” Johnson was able to graduate high school in 1948, but by 1951, Uncle Sam came knocking and Johnson was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War. “I was supposed to go in to the Army in October, but they deferred me until I got the crop out that season,” he said. “I reported in Des Moines on December 10, 1951.”
Johnson said he was first was shipped to Camp Crowder, a U.S. Army post located in southwest Missouri. He then spent four days on a train headed for California’s Camp Roberts for eight weeks of basic training. Infantry training followed. Johnson was transferred to the California desert at San Pedro for anti-aircraft training. “We shot guns,” he said matter-of-factly. During that time the Korean War came to an end. But, protecting the U.S. coastline from possible attack was still a military priority. Johnson was part of the U.S. Army’s 77th AAA Gun Battalion. 

“Our post was near the Los Angeles airport,” he remembered. “We were there ‘just in case’.  We had a battery of 90-mm anti-aircraft guns to protect the airport, but there wasn’t any barracks, so we had to build our own.” Johnson added they could see the famous Hollywood sign to the north of the base. Johnson was assigned to that anti-aircraft battery for about a year and a half.  “We had a good group of guys from the Midwest and Oregon and Washington. It was a lot of fun.”

With about nine months to go before his Army stint would be finished, Johnson took advantage of a long leave and took a bus back to Iowa. “My brother picked me up in his car and we headed back home so he could marry his sweetheart Elaine. We both headed back to California to live,” he said. “We rented a cabin at a motor court in Los Angeles. We called them little huts.”

After the service, the couple headed back home again. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he admitted. “My grandfather sold the farm while I was in the service, so I drove truck for my brothers out of Truman. I did that for about three years until in 1958 when an aunt asked if we wanted to farm again, so we got back into farming.” He and his wife have two daughters and a son.

In September 2016, Johnson was part of that year’s Veteran’s Honor Flight to Washington D.C. where he and dozens of military veterans got to tour the nation’s capital. “It was a long day, but it was worth it,” he remembered.

Story and Photos © 2018 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ronald Hartwig

Born in Fairmont, MN in 1939
U.S. Navy Submarine Service Veteran

As a high school junior, Ronald Hartwig described himself as “a little bit wild.” He attended Fairmont High School with the intention of graduating with the Class of 1957, but cut his schooling short to join the U.S. Navy. “I didn’t like one of my teachers, so once I turned 17, I went into the Navy,” he explained.

That was in the fall of 1956.
Hartwig headed to Navy boot camp at the Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, Ill. After completion of his initial military training, he was assigned to the Keyport Torpedo Station at Keyport, Washington, part of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division. “They developed and tested torpedoes there,” he said. “I was at Keyport for six months and never stepped foot on a sub,” he remembered. Then it was time to move again. Hartwig said he and a buddy bought road 1940 and drove to San Diego for three months training in the Navy’s electricians school.

“While I was in San Diego, they asked if anyone would be interested in submarines and I jumped at that,” Hartwig remembered. Again, he packed his sea bag as the Navy sent him across the country to the Naval Submarine Base New London. This base is the United States Navy's primary East Coast submarine base, also known as the "Home of the Submarine Force," located in Groton, Connecticut. During his training, Hartwig said he had to undergo intensive psychological testing, plus three months of Navy Submarine School. “It was kind of dangerous at times,” he recalled. “One time we had escape training where you had to swim up to the surface from the bottom of a 50-foot submerged tower. 

Finally, in 1958, Hartwig received his duty orders and was transferred to the submarine USS Tiru (SS416), a Balao-class diesel boat based in Pearl Harbor, HI. “I got there on the first day and checked in with the duty officer.” Hartwig said. “The next day we were heading out on a 60-day sea run on patrol in the Pacific.”
Hartwig shared a humorous story of his first assignment on the Tiru, sitting at the helm of the Tiru steering the submarine. “I was so sick, and I had the dry heaves so bad, that I was causing the sub to run a in a zig-zag pattern while trying to stay on course,” he chuckled. “The commander called down to me to ‘mind the helm.’”

Contrary to popular belief, submarines spend most of their time running on the surface of the waters, not submerged. “And that’s what made it really hard not to get sick,” Hartwig explained. “The rocking of the sub wasn’t so bad, it was the up and down pounding. My bunk was in the aft torpedo area. In rough seas, the bow would drop down and the props would rise right out of the water, then the sub would slam down again. That made it pretty rough,” he admitted.

While patrolling the Pacific region in the late 1950s and early 1960s, everything they did was classified, Hartwig said. “We ran daily ops out of Pearl Harbor plus did two 60-day northern runs near Russian waters to spy on them,” he said. “We also did the West-Pac tours of Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Formosa and were based out of Yokosuka Navy Base during those assignments.

After his first year of duty on the Tiru, he was able to take leave and headed back home to Fairmont and married his sweetheart, Joan Wagner. Hartwig had re-enlisted and the newlyweds traveled back to Honolulu to set up their first home. “It was really nice back then,” he remembered. “We had an apartment near Waikiki Beach, and we drove around in a convertible sports car!” But when their first son, Blaine, was born, Hartwig said they had to part with that car.
But submarine duty was hard on their family life, as the Hartwig’s soon found out.  It was about a year later that their next child came. “I was in Japan when my daughter Paige was born,” he said. “My wife Joan came back home to Fairmont with the kids to live.”

Hartwig said he never thought he’d spend six years in submarine service. During those years he experienced some close calls. “We almost lost the sub two times because of accidents while out at sea,” he revealed. “It was my intention to stay in,” he continued, “but with my duty requirements, it was hard on the family.” Hartwig made the decision to leave the service and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1964.

Hartwig came back home and landed a job with the City of Fairmont as an electrician at the city’s power plant.  Their third child, Cade, was born in 1974. Hartwig stayed with his job and worked his way up to plant supervisor. He took an early retirement in 1996 after 34 years with the City of Fairmont.

Story and Photo © 218 Joseph Kreiss Photography