GERALD KLOSSEK - PFC
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- April 13, 1946
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- November 21, 1967
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Gerald Klossek was born on April 13, 1946, in Scranton, PA. As a child, Gerry was brought to Newark, NJ (Down Neck) in the Ironbound section of Newark. It was there that Gerry was raised by his mother, Elizabeth, Italian-American born in this country; his father, Emil, who was from Germany; and his grandparents, Nonna and Gino, both Italian immigrants. There in Newark, Gerry attended Wilson Avenue Elementary School and as a teenager, attended East Side High School and Essex County Vocational-Technical High School. After school, he went into the heavy construction field.
Gerry loved hanging out and having good times with his cousin, Harold "Sonny" Benson, Jr. and with his friends, Lee Lee, J.T., Paulie, and Diggs (the only soul brother in their close-knit group), just to mention a few. They all hung out at their private club, the Democratic Social Club and Dosier's Pool Room, both on Market Street. Gerry and Sonny were not only cousins, but were best friends. They did everything together.
Gerry was a ladies' man, and loved looking good for the ladies. He loved dressing sharp, and he wore nothing but the best clothes - all top of the line, all imported from Italy. All his shoes were alligator leather or suede, imported from Italy as well. Gerry had a pair of shoes to match every one of his outfits.
Gerry loved music, too, especially groups like The Platters, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Flamingos and The Five Satins. The party and good times ended when Sonny was drafted into the US Army in April 1966, into the 9th Infantry Division. With Sonny gone, Gerry immediately enlisted in the Army. He not only enlisted, but having failed his first physical, he fought to get in. With the help of Congressman Peter Rodino of Newark, NJ, Gerry got a second chance and the Army finally gave Gerry the okay in May 1966. Gerry then went on to Fort Dix, NJ, for basic training, and on to Fort Bening, GA, to complete advanced training as a Green Beret and a member of the 173rd Airborne Paratroopers. Right after the New Year, 1967, after his advanced training, Gerry was immediately shipped to South Vietnam. Sonny had arrived in Vietnam about a month ahead of Gerry in November 1966.
On June 15, 1967, Gerry made it into the most widely read newspaper back home, The Star Ledger. The article was entitled, "Color Doesn't Mean a Thing to Two Buddies." The article had a photo of Gerry outside a bunker, alongside his best buddy, PFC Bernis J. Darling, Jr. (from Camden St. in Newark). What was ironic about this article was that at the time the article was printed, the Newark riots were about to explode at any moment. In Newark, whites were against blacks, and blacks against whites - they were like enemies. Not here in Vietnam, though. Here you had two paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne, 4th Battalion of Charlie Company, both from Newark, NJ, both enlisted; and both went on operations together; one white, one black, who were like brothers in the central jungles and Central Highlands of South Vietnam.
Outside this bunker, Gerry, along with his buddy, Bernis, told the Star Ledger reporter: "It is tough seeing our buddies being killed. We're doing all the fighting with little help from our allies, the South Vietnamese. We're tired of the jungle; we're tired of war; and tired of seeing our friends die." Wiping his muddy face, Gerry took a long look around the rain-swept defense perimeter awaiting replacements and reinforcements, before going into the jungle once again.
Altogether Gerry was wounded in action on three separate occasions - not once, not twice, but three times. Gerry wore the scars of battle. He carried scars on his face, his hands, his back, his leg, and he had bamboo poisoning in one arm. Gerry also sustained fragmentation wounds in various parts of his body when he was hit by shrapnel from enemy explosives during Operation Junction City in March 1967. There they ran into a Vietcong base camp and they destroyed enemy tunnels and bunkers. There they also ran into mine fields where 36 Americans were wounded and 4 were killed.
We believe that some of these fragmentation wounds might have been critical because Gerry said that the doctors did not want to operate on him. If the situation were otherwise, Gerry would have said that the doctors did not have to operate. The point being, there is a difference between doctors not wanting to operate and doctors not having to operate.
Because there was such a very good chance that shrapnel was lodged in critical areas of his body, specifically near major arteries, perhaps the doctors felt that the best thing for Gerry was to remove what shrapnel they could, stitch him up and let him go rather than run the risk of opening him up and possibly losing him on the operating table. (We are currently in the process of retrieving and examining Gerry's medical records, in hopes that they will reveal to us the extent of Gerry's combat injuries, which are an extremely integral part of Gerry's story.)
Gerry was wounded in action three times, and even on the third occasion, it was his decision to return to action rather than being sent to the rear of the unit as a REMF. REMFs enjoyed hot meals, beds, showers, movies, booze, dope and prostitutes, and saw little or no action, and simply waited until it was their time to be sent Stateside.
Depending on his injuries, a soldier's third casualty should automatically warrant him a ticket home. If Gerry had qualified for that trip home after his third injury, he chose not to go. Rather, he stayed for two reasons: 1) He could not leave his buddies who were still alive behind; and, 2) To avenge his buddies already killed in action.
In July 1967, the two cousins who had been separated from each other on the streets of Newark, NJ, found one another in the jungles of South Vietnam. When Sonny heard that the 173rd Airborne were camped nearby, he confiscated one of the Jeeps from the 9th Infantry Division. Putting his life in jeopardy, with no back up or support, Sonny drove to Gerry's camp and they met briefly for about an hour. For that one hour the two cousins were finally together once again. For that one hour, it was like old times on the streets of Newark, NJ. And after that brief hour, the cousins were separated once again, ready to go into battle, not knowing if they would ever see each other again.
In October of 1967, Gerry wrote a letter home saying he was looking forward to coming home Christmas of 1967, or January of 1968. He was looking forward to getting married and settling down. Gerry asked us to send him some soul music for the guys, because his albums had been destroyed in battle. We sent Gerry the albums, but we don't know if he ever received them. That brief, one hour meeting between the two cousins in July 1967 in Vietnam's jungles was the last time they would see each other alive.
"The two cousins were so close, I think that God had allowed them to see one another one last time."
On November 1, 1967, the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) returned to the Dak To area in full force. At the confluence of the borders of Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam, NVA troops were pouring into the area. Gerry and the 173rd Airborne, 4th Battalion, were loaded into Air Force C-130 transport aircraft at Tuy Hoa, and airlifted to Kontum, just below Dak To. Within days the 173rd moved deep into the jungle towards Dakto to confront the enemy and to reinforce the 173rd's 2nd Battalion, which was taking a pounding and sustained heavy losses. The Battle for Dak To (Hill 875 to be exact) came to be known as one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War. The fight for Hill 875 would ultimately climax the battle for Dak To, as well as the campaign for the Central Highlands.
On November 6th, the 173rd, 4th Battalion engaged the enemy I heavy combat. From November 6th through November 16th, the confrontation continued and intensified. On the morning of November 17th, Gerry and the 4th Battalion tackled the triple-canopied jungles of Dak To, called "The Land With No Sun," which made the bamboo-covered slopes of Hill 875 dark as night. The bamboo was so thick that it rendered their M-16 bullets ineffective.
Carrying their 80-pound rucksacks full of supplies and ammunition, they started and struggled their way up Hill 875. As they climbed, they passed so many dead American soldiers from the 2nd Battalion they soon began to wonder if there were any American troops left alive on the hill.
By 10:00 on the night of November 17th, they had dug in for the night. The following day, November 18th, the next advancement up Hill 875 began. Gerry's 4th Battalion Charlie Company encountered a large NVA complex system of bunkers, tunnels and trenches manned by the 174th North Vietnamese Army Regiment. On the mornings of November 19th and 20th, Gerry's 4th Battalion Charlie Company and "D" Company once again experienced heavy contact with the enemy in fierce battle. For the next two days, Hill 875 occupied by the tenacious and formidable NVA, was hit with 7-1/2 tons of burning Napalm and plastered with heavy artillery and air strikes every fifteen minutes.
According to military documents, on the morning of November 21, 1967, Gerry was last seen in combat with his 4th Battalion Charlie Company engaged the enemy in a hostile fire fight. It was during this fierce confrontation with the NVA that Gerry was seen for the last time. According to military documents, Gerry was then reported missing in action, and the search for Gerry was then in progress. Two days later on November 23, 1967, at 11:55 AM, Gerry's 4th Battalion and the remnant of the 2nd Battalion of the 173rd made it to the summit of Hill 875, victorious. The Battle for Dak To had driven the NVA off the field of battle and back into Laos and Cambodia. This 1967 victory for the Central Highlands of Vietnam came at a high price and with extremely heavy losses to the 4th Battalion and the 2nd Battalion of the 173rd.
With the help of artillery and repeated air strikes, the 173rd had secured victory, surmounting nearly impossible logistical difficulties, advancing up Hill 875, and defeating an entrenched, first class NVA opponent.
The 173rd had been the first Army combat brigade to arrive in Vietnam. This elite group was a fully qualified paratrooper unit throughout its Vietnam service, and had long represented the best in America's fighting spirit.
In the Dak To area, November 1967, in the dark triple-canopy jungle, the law of averages saw to it that most infantrymen were killed before they ever received a third wound, no matter how good they were with their weapon.
Fighting in that area, an American soldier ran a nearly 100% probability of being wounded or even killed and sent home in a body bag. The 173rd consisted of four infantry battalions. Although all of the 173rds members were paratroopers, some of its members, like Gerry, were Green Berets, today known as members of Special Forces. The 173rd was a fireball unit commissioned in 1967 by General William Westmoreland to conduct search and destroy missions and to defeat the NVA (North Vietnamese Army). The 173rd was like a chess pawn, a rapid reaction force. It could be moved swiftly into battle, and repeatedly it was moved from the frying pan into the fire by General Westmoreland himself. No other unit in the history of the Vietnam War had a higher per capita casualty/mortality rate than the 173rd.
After the seven day siege (November 17 through November 23), the 173rd emerged victorious and was awarded the coveted Presidential Unit Citation for covering itself in glory during this pivotal Dakto campaign. In August 1971, the 173rd made their Exodus out of Vietnam and was inactivated in January 1972.
At first, we were contacted by the Department of Defense, telling us that Gerry was MIA (Missing in Action). One week later, with two officers from the US Army at our door, we were informed that Gerry's body had been located and identified.
On November 21, 1967 (ironically, on his cousin Sonny's birthday), Gerry was killed in action and died of fragmentation wounds. Gerry's death was reported in the same newspaper, The Star Ledger, with two articles entitled, "Newarker Dies in Viet" and "He Won't Be Home for Christmas." The two news articles were written by the same Vietnam reporter who had interviewed Gerry and his buddy, Bernis, back in June 1967, not even six months before. Gerry's cousin, Sonny, and Gerry's buddy, Bernis, both made it back alive to Newark, NJ, and have their own stories to tell.
In the Land With No Sun, after sustaining his third wound, Gerry knew the odds and chances of him never getting home were ever greater. This brave soldier, my brother, stared death in the face and chose the way he would die, valiantly, with honor, and in battle with his comrades.
At 20 years of age, Gerry made the ultimate sacrifice in dying for his friends, family and country. Gerry died doing what he strongly felt was his duty. He knew there was a job to be done and he believed one could never run away from things.
It's a tradition for members of the 173rd Airborne to be buried with one special medal. Gerry was buried in this tradition of his fallen brothers from the 173rd Airborne with that medal, along with the Purple Heart and full military honors.
No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends. John 15:13
Written by Emil Sabatini, Jr., Brother
Information provided by Emil Sabatini, Jr. (brother) and NJVVMF.
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