Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch, Nov. 7, 2005
Larry Kautz: Vietnam experiences remain 35 years later
By Dori Moudry
Vietnam veteran Larry Kautz seldom talks about his war experiences from 35 years ago, but they are with him all of the time.
Kautz keeps a duffle bag full of mementos from the war; his uniform jacket, fancy street shirts he used to wear, his medals and military paperwork, but he has looked at the items just four times, his wife, Kathleen, said.
The Kautzes live in Stockholm Township, south of Cokato. Larry is originally from Silver Lake, while Kathleen is from Buffalo.
Larry was just 20 when he was drafted into the Army. He was inducted in Minneapolis, and shipped to Ft. Bragg, N.C. From there, he went to New Jersey, where he trained as a truck driver in a transport unit.
From New Jersey, he flew to Bien Hoa, in what was South Vietnam.
Included in his duffle bag full of gear is a bandolier with ammunition and a bayonet.
“You carried that around with you all of the time,” Larry said of the bandolier.
He served in Vietnam for fourteen months, serving an extra two months to get “an early out,” Larry said.
His first impression of Vietnam was that “it was like being out in the woods.”
“There were tents all over and jungles,” Larry said.
He worked hauling food rations and driving Vietnamese KP (kitchen) workers from their homes to the US military base and back.
Mainly, he drove truck in the area around Bien Hoa, but once in a while, he would go to Saigon, which is now Ho Chi Minh City.
“Every once in a while we were fired on, but we weren’t allowed to fire back unless we had permission,” Larry said.
For service to his country, Larry received the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
Larry said he is proud of serving his country during the Vietnam War.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned discipline. It hurt you by watching people when they were shot, and it makes you feel sad how the people are treated now, both the Vietnam vets and the Vietnamese people.”
When he returned home, he didn’t talk about the war with his family or friends. He still prefers not to talk about it too much.
“When I came back, we treated it like it never happened,” Larry said. “Like I never went there.”
Kathleen hadn’t met Larry before he went to Vietnam. They met at a wedding party after he returned to Silver Lake.
He is willing to talk about some of the strange foods he ate while he was stationed in Vietnam.
“When they would serve you a bottle of beer, it would have two ants in it,” he said. “They said the ants gave it flavor.”
He also was served ants as seasoning for soup, instead of the black pepper he asked for.
“Once a buddy and I went into a restaurant and we asked for steak, mashed potatoes, and chocolate malts,” Larry said. “We were served a glass of milk, fried potatoes and some kind of meat I don’t know what it was, maybe water buffalo, but it was like chewing on rubber.”
He said most of the Vietnamese people he met during the war spoke some English.
“They swore at us a lot (in Vietnamese),” Larry said. “I guess some of them were glad we were there. At least they had jobs.”
Along with memories of the war that never go away, Larry began showing signs of exposure to Agent Orange as he approached middle age. Made from toxic chemicals, Agent Orange was used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. Many Vietnam vets suffer from health problems because of exposure to Agent Orange.
He had always been able to work full-time, but beginning in 2002, he started experiencing health problems.
“If I go outside to work (on the yard), I start to sweat,” Larry said. “I get tired in about five minutes.”
Kathleen said Larry is considered disabled, and “it’s 100 percent service-related.”
“We never knew this life before,” she said. “This is a whole new life for us. It’s a complete change.”
“I used to work all of the time,” Larry said. “Now, I can’t do anything hardly.”
Kathleen said the couple’s four children are taking good care of their parents.
“The four kids watch over us very well,” she said. “They check in or call us all of the time.”
On June 13, the Kautzes and a group of about 24 couples, most from the area, traveled to Branson, Mo. on a Holt Tour bus. The artists and singers in Branson put on a special week of shows and ceremonies for Vietnam veterans. Tens of thousands of people from all over the country attended, they said.
“It was a very emotional trip,” Kathleen said.
Larry went into the Army Feb. 24, 1970, and then went to Vietnam Aug. 2, 1970. He returned to the US Sept. 30, 1971.