52 years after being nearly killed in Vietnam, an Idaho Marine veteran has finally received his Purple Heart thanks to the efforts of his daughter and fellow veterans. Bill Klobas was awarded the medal in a ceremony attended by his family and several other Vietnam veterans. For decades he had been denied the decoration due to flawed records which did not record his being wounded, an error which has now finally been corrected.
Wounded by friendly fire
Bill Klobas had been in Vietnam for ten months serving in the 7th regiment of the 1st Marine Division when he took part in Operation Oklahoma Hills early 1969.
The operation was intended to clear out a number of hidden camps being used by the North Vietnamese Army in a series of hills and valleys near the border between North and South Vietnam.
Klobas and his fellow Marines were spread throughout an open field when they became pinned down by enemy sniper fire. He took cover behind a boulder to wait for incoming artillery support.
When that artillery support came it quickly became apparent that something had gone wrong. A 155 mm artillery shell smashed into the ground near Klobas and the force of the blast instantly sent the Marine flying from his position.
Klobas expected to die when he heard the round coming and curled up in a ball to wait. When his comrades saw him flying through the air with his arms and legs flailing wildly, they too assumed that he wouldn’t survive.
When they found him and dragged him to cover he was bleeding from his face and was not conscious; he had suffered a traumatic brain injury. His company called for a medical evacuation but they thought he was probably dead and when he did not return this was seemingly confirmed.
Veteran finally recognized
Bill Klobas did survive and spent months being treated for his injuries. When he returned to the United States he found that his service was treated with hostility by much of the American public.
For years after this the veteran preferred to forget about his time in Vietnam, even inventing stories to fill in the time so that he would not have to tell prospective employers that he had been in the military.
The records of his injury and treatment were somehow lost during these years but for a long time that was fine for Klobas, who preferred to keep to himself and away from the government after the bitter experience of being shunned for his service.
His daughter Casey Byington felt differently. She became determined to ensure that her father received the Purple Heart he was entitled to but the requests were denied twice due to the loss of relevant records.
Finally Byington came across a YouTube video about Operation Oklahoma Hills and noticed a five year old comment from Al Moreno, a veteran of the operation who had invited other Marines to contact him. Moreno was shocked to find out that Bill Klobas had survived his injuries.
Moreno, who had been among the men who dragged Klobas to safety, and radio operator Richard Czerniejewski provided the eye-witness testimony that finally allowed Byington to see her father awarded the Purple Heart he had deserved for 52 years.