BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET)– You might know him as a lawmaker or a lawyer, but Lawrence Klemin is also a veteran of the Vietnam War. On this week’s edition of Veterans Voices, Klemin shares his own harrowing story of his service in the jungles of Vietnam.
Lawrence Klemin grew up as a tough, hardworking, North Dakota boy. According to Klemin, working in his parent’s gravel pit in Carrington and on his family’s farm in New Rockford gave him an understanding of the value of hard work from a young age — which became a major asset during his college years, and his eventual enlistment in the U.S. Military.
“I didn’t really know what I had in mind at the time,” he states, “but the war in Vietnam was going on at the time. I didn’t have any other plans, so I enlisted in the army. It’s kind of like looking for adventure, I guess — and I found it, too.”
Although he initially enlisted in the Infantry, Klemin was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division– the only air assault division in the U.S. Army. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was sent in as a replacement for many casualties that the division had just suffered. And on one particular search and destroy mission, he almost lost his life, too.
“We had a firefight,” Klemin says, “and then I see this grenade rolling out not too far from me, about 20 feet away. I hit the ground quickly, it went off, and I was injured. Grenade fragments hit me in the right arm and right shoulder, so it kind of numbed me. Actually, a fragment went all the way through my arm, and poked out of the other side.”
Because of the hostility, the medevac couldn’t get to Klemin and the other three injured soldiers, so they had to walk to where a helicopter could pick them up.
“It helped that I had a little package of morphine,” he states. “We all carried a little first aid kit on our belt that contained a little thing of morphine that you could jab in your arm, and that took away the pain.”
After the morphine shot, the four injured men made their way to the helicopter — which was hovering hundreds of feet above them and unable to land in the jungle. Klemin and one other man were lifted up inside of it on a cable hooked to a winch, with the other two men following behind. That, however, is when disaster struck.
“One of the enemies opened fire on our helicopter,” Klemin recalls, “and hit the guy who was running the winch, right in the face. I was sitting right across from him — It knocked him out. I don’t know if a bullet hit the cable, but it snapped. The helicopter just dove down over the tree line to get out of there, and the other two men were lost down in the jungle someplace.”
Later, Klemin did get a chance to catch up with the pilot as he recovered from his injuries, who informed him that the helicopter was shot twelve times. Following the incident, Klemin was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among many other awards. This recognition, though, did little to stop him from venturing back to the battlefield in service to his country.
“And then I went back to Vietnam,” he declares. “I went back to my unit back to the exact same job I had before, out in the jungle again.”
Klemin has been married for 53 years after meeting his sweetheart in Ohio on a double date. They have two kids, as well as three grandchildren, who currently live in Bismarck. Although his military service has long since ended, he states that he’s been taking that same style of perseverance to the legislature– continuing to fight for our freedoms– but in the halls of the state capitol instead.