Band of brothers marches to beat of a Purple Heart

Band of brothers marches to beat of a Purple Heart

Jim Klug knows when he goes through a metal detector at an airport he'll get buzzed. And that's after the Ashland resident has emptied his pockets, taken off his shoes and removed his belt.

"I always wear short sleeve shirts so they can 'wand' me easier," he says of his right arm. "Then they'll start poking around on my side. When they get a buzz, they always want to feel it to make sure nothing is taped on me."

They needn't worry. The metal he carries is in the form of steel shrapnel embedded in his chest, right arm and side, courtesy of the Vietnam War.

Klug, 61, is the commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Rogue Valley Chapter No. 147. The order was founded in 1782 by a fellow named Gen. George Washington for those wounded in battle.

The southwest Oregon building contractor was one of the walking wounded on bloody Hill 875 in the central highland of what was South Vietnam in the fall of 1967. When the fighting stopped, the U.S. Army's 2nd and 4th infantry divisions suffered 158 dead, 33 missing in action and 411 wounded while the 173rd Airborne Brigade had 272 killed, more than 900 wounded and about 60 missing in fighting in the area.

Come each Memorial Day weekend, he thinks about those who once walked with him into the jungle. One was a fellow soldier named William Harrington, a timber faller from South Paris, Maine.

"Bill and I sat together on the evening after we were ambushed," Klug says. "I looked at Bill as we were setting up for the night and said, 'You look like hell.' He replied, 'You look like double hell.' We were all black faced and full of blood."

Klug remembers taking a photo of his buddy that evening.

"Before the sun set, Bill was killed by a rocket," he says quietly. "When you work together to keep each other alive it creates a bond like nothing in civilian life."

Klug can best be described as a thoughtful patriot. The husband of Stephanie Johnson, retiring principal of Washington Elementary School in Medford, he led his group of Purple Heart veterans in the Boatnik parade in Grants Pass on Saturday and will be present during the Memorial Day ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. at the Eagle Point National Cemetery.

"I want other veterans with Purple Hearts to know we're here," he says.

Klug was drafted while a college student on Feb. 14, 1967. Hailing from Lahabra, Calif., the mortar man got orders in October for the 4th Infantry Division in the central highlands of what was then South Vietnam.

His unit was first hit that Halloween, fighting for about eight hours just north of Play Cu.

"We slept on the ground — we got out of the field a total of four times," he says. "And the times we got out were beyond the word 'horrific.' "

Horrific barely describes Hill 875, where he was wounded twice in November of '67.

"When I got hit, we had finally taken the hill after three days of fighting," he says. "We had bombarded that hill for days before we went up. But they (North Vietnamese Army) were entrenched so deeply, a lot of them survived."

Klug, who manned an M-79 grenade launcher while on the hill, recalls the enemy was at home in the jungle, unlike the Americans.

"And most of the people we were fighting were our junior by five to 10 years," he says.

Young or not, they were deadly with their mortars. A shell landed square in a pit where Klug and several other soldiers were holed up.

"I had very minor wounds compared to other guys," he says.

Like many others during the battle, he tied up the wounds that were bleeding badly and continued fighting.

But later that day, when the enemy made another assault, a bullet struck him in the right leg near the knee cap.

He was med-evaced to Kon Tum some two dozen air miles to the north. While recovering, he began hearing rumors about something called a Tet Offensive coming up in January '68. It was during Tet that he fought in and around the town of Kon Tum.

"We fought in circles," he says of Vietnam. "We never knew who were the bad guys and who were the good guys.

"It was like what is happening in Iraq now," he adds. "You were always on hyper alert, always ready for battle."

A staff sergeant by the end of his hitch, Klug would serve 19 months in Vietnam, although the last seven months was as a chaplain's assistant.

"The reason I stayed over was to try to undo some of the things I had done," he explains. "You regret the taking of any life. It's against our God-given, inherent value system."

Meanwhile, he believes the local Order of the Purple Heart, which has 15 members, including two wounded in Vietnam, can serve as a voice for others wounded in battle.

"Right now, I'm looking for the combat wounded out there," he says. "I think we can help them if they need it . . . we have a bond."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at

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