Herald and Journal, Nov. 6, 2000

Doing what needed to be done: Freedom isn't free

By Lynda Jensen

Cour·age n. The attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult or painful instead of withdrawing from it; quality of being fearless or brave; valor.

Duty n.., pl Conduct based on moral obligation.

These two ingredients are essential in any soldier and they exist today in local veterans who survived combat in various conflicts that transpired at different times during the past 60 years.

Marine Buck Sergeant Luke Otto

One such veteran is Luke Otto, Lester Prairie, a rifleman in the Marines during World War II.

Otto will be making a Veterans Day presentation at the Howard Lake Waverly High School Wednesday along with Gordy Kubasch, a Korean Conflict veteran.

Otto enlisted in the Marines at the age of 26 and took part in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese in the South Pacific.

He was sent to jungle training at New Guinea as a soldier in the First Division of Marines, which engaged the Japanese in combat over islands dotting the ocean.

Most of the fights over air bases and military targets were gritty operations that took months to pull off, Otto said. The Japanese turned out to be diligent soldiers that entrenched themselves in battle.

"That was the story on every one of those islands - the brass said it would be easy, but it wasn't," Otto said.

He landed with other forces on Christmas Day in 1943 on the island of New Britain to capture a large Japanese naval air base. It took months to achieve, he said.

Next, his division made a landing on Peleliu, close to the Philippines.

"That was the worst one," Otto said of the assault.

Approximately 11,000 Japanese soldiers defended the island with 10,000 Marines on the assault.

Eventually, 300 captives were taken and the rest killed, Otto said. Two thousand Marines lost their lives, with 5,000 casualties.

Otto lost many very good friends during the war, some of whom were hacked to death in fox holes with bayonets.

Malaria affected three quarters of the soldiers in the jungles on the island, he said. He contracted the disease early in his service. Victims of it suffer from high fever, chills, aching bones, loss of appetite and dehydration.

Otto also suffered from dysentery and a broken shoulder at one time. "I was a survivor," he said.

When he went home, his bed felt so soft that his bones ached in the morning, he said.

Advice for young people?

Otto won't preach, he said. "It was something that I had to do."

Navy Seaman Don Triplett

Also in the South Pacific a little later in the war, another local seaman served on the aircraft carrier Petrof Bay.

Don Triplett, Howard Lake, loaded shells in anti-aircraft guns aboard the carrier as part of a crew in the Navy.

The ship engaged in military combat during the following campaigns: the landing of Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, San Narciso, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and in the second battle of the Philippine Sea.

During the battle of the Philippine Sea, the ship was attacked by four different Japanese suicide pilots.

The first suicide plane exploded in mid-air from anti aircraft fire, the second turned away smoking and the third came straight in, missing the carrier and hitting the water 20 feet forward of the bridge. It exploded and drenched the ship from bow to stern with water, gas and oil.

The fourth suicide pilot went straight for the flight deck, but got its tail and wing shot off about 400 feet from the ship and fell harmlessly into the sea.

Later that day, the carrier managed to elude two torpedoes from Japanese submarines.

By working together and keeping its purpose during the attack, the crew of the Petrof Bay managed to get through without damage to the ship, even though the carrier right behind it was hit by a suicide pilot.

Triplett received the silver star medal for his bravery as part of the Petrof Bay's crew.

Other awards he earned were: the presidential unit citation, American campaign medal, the Asiatic Pacific campaign medal, the World War II victory medal, the Philippine liberation ribbon and the Philippine Republic presidential unit citation badge.

Interestingly enough, initially, Triplett tried to join the Navy, but his mother, Marie, refused to sign his papers. He was the youngest member of his crew.

His older three brothers were already serving in the war: Roger in the Air Force, Duane in the Army, and Robert in the Navy. His father, Cecil, also took part in a government project.

Army Corporal Gordon Kubasch

Almost 50 years ago, Gordon Kubasch shook the Korean peninsula with artillery.

Kubasch served the Army in the Korean Conflict, often called the "forgotten war" because it was never recognized as an official war. "There were no parades for us," Kubasch said.

Few may know it, but about the same number of men were lost during the Korean war (54,426 soldiers dead) compared to the Vietnam War (58,153 soldiers dead) - except the Korean war lasted only three years compared to nine years in Vietnam.

Imagine fighting hand-to-hand combat in Minnesota weather . . . this is exactly the kind of weather in Korea, Kubasch said.

The North Koreans and Chinese were known for making night raids in freezing weather, leaving men shot or hacked to death in their sleeping bags.

Kubasch served as the powder man for 155 millimeter guns perched alongside a mountain.

There were 18 of these large guns, with a range of 10 miles - in fact, he never knew if he hit something, he said.

When the guns went off, it was so loud that he couldn't tell if there was any incoming shells, he said.

The guns were directed by other personnel that would track targets and then radio back when and where to fire, Kubasch said.

The sound of the guns probably permanently damaged his hearing.

One time, Kubasch walked under the barrel of a gun when it fired. He lost his hearing for three days after that.

Kubasch remembers the silence at the end of the war very well.

"Thank God - no more killing," he said.

Kubasch earned the following honors: the Korea service medal with two bronze service stars, the United Nations service medal, the good conduct medal and the national defense service medal.

Army Sergeant Ken Klammer

Ken Klammer also served in the Korean Conflict.

He was stationed at the demilitarized zone on the 38th parallel at first, known as "No Man's Land."

The war ended before he got there, although he spent from April 1954 to 1955 in Korea.

Although Klammer missed the action on the battlefield, he is no stranger to death .

While he was away, his father Erwin died from a stroke at the age of 51. A year after he came home from the war, his little brother was killed in a tractor accident.

Klammer remembers being called out of his tent and told by the Red Cross about his father's unexpected death. A couple of weeks later, he received a letter giving him the details from his mother.

As a result, he received a hardship discharge and went home to manage his parents' farm. He is the oldest son of the family.

He remembers the cold weather and how many soldiers lost hands and feet from frostbite. The cold would also freeze up the rifles, he said.

To keep warm, the men would burn diesel fuel in barrels.

Klammer also remembers using his helmet to wash everything from hands to hair.

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