Transcript of The Vietnam Tapesby Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio,
Gary Eichten, Minnesota Public Radio
To mark the Independence Day holiday, we're going to visit the front lines, and the home front, to tell the story of a young kid from Willmar who went to war in Vietnam. Please note: this report contains some profanity.
Gary Eichten narration: Our program today actually began back in November 2007, with a call from Midday listener Lisa Lehrer. We were doing a program about recording family histories when we got this call from Lisa in Owatonna.
Lisa Lehrer: When I was about 9, my brother was in Vietnam. And my mother would send tapes that she would make when we were at the dinner table or when we had family members over, and she would send those to my brother -- cassette tapes. And then my brother, in turn, would send cassettes back to us. So I have about 12 of these tapes and I'm just scared to death that I'm going to lose that history, because they are wonderful.
Eichten narration: They are wonderful, and today we're going to hear some of the tapes that Lisa Lehrer hung onto for more than 30 years -- the ones her brother, Daniel Kleven, recorded in 1970 when he was serving in Vietnam, and tapes Dan received from his buddies and the family back on the dairy farm in Willmar. They provide a window into a world most of us will never experience -- the life of a combat soldier.
KLEVEN ON TAPE: (chopper noise) Well, here comes a Cobra gunship. Now these babies are really something. You can hear it. Wow. Listen to that thing. Really smacking by. Boy, kinda nice when you hear those. Then you know you're safe. Charlie won't even stick his head up when he hears those babies because they really bring smoke.
Eichten narration: Daniel Kleven spent 11 months as an Army infantry soldier in Vietnam. He worked two of the most dangerous jobs -- walking point, where he would be the first man the enemy's line of fire; and crawling through Viet Cong tunnels. Dangerous work to be sure, but he survived and has shared with us a wonderful audio history of his experience.
One note before we begin: These tapes were recorded by a soldier in combat, 38 years ago. During a war. Some of you might be offended by some of the language.
We catch up with Kleven early in 1970, on guard duty at Keen Fire Support Base, near Cu-Chi in South Vietnam.
KLEVEN ON TAPE: It's about 12:30 and I'm on bunker guard. I got bunker guard from 12 until 2. It's four of us guys in a small bunker. (sound of a shot) I don't know if you can hear in the background, we've got these stupid 105mm Howitzers in the background. They think they've got some action out to the east. They've been firing the last few minutes. No big deal.
I don't really mind bunker guard because it's sure a heck of a lot better than being out in the boonies humping. We're usually at stupid bushmaster. We just got in now this morning from a three-day bushmaster. What we do is we eagle flight out -- that's by chopper. Sweep an area the first thing, and then set up an ambush that night, then like the next day, we'll do approximately the same thing, set up an ambush.
Day after that, sweep through another area. Set up another ambush that night, then the following day come in. So, actually we're out four days. The fat lifers only let us kick back here one day, the day we come in and then at night, so really all you get a chance to do is clean your weapon and get a little rest if can. (boom)
What I hate is that it's starting to rain more. Never used to rain at all. Now it rains about every day, probably half hour or hour. But when you're in the field it rains just long enough to get soaking wet. Every night right before dark. Never fails, and then you have to spend all night laying in the mud with just a blanket. Wow. It's just, ugh. I hate it. But what do you do? (boom)
I don't know what the deal is, but I sure got one leg that's going to sleep. Wow. Been sitting on it. No luxurious place to sit down. Just sitting on a bunker on a bunch of wet stupid sand bags.
Dan Kleven today: I remembered almost word for word what was said, and where it was said, and who was there, and what was going on and what the atmosphere was. I mean it was amazing I could recall almost to the moment.
Eichten narration: Daniel Kleven is now 59 years old. He's back home in Willmar, where he lives with his wife and their youngest son. Their two older sons are away at college. Producer Sasha Aslanian and I visited Dan at his home to talk about these recordings, and how he views his experience almost 40 years later.
Eichten and Dan Kleven talking:
Eichten: First of all, I want to just clarify, you were drafted, right?
Kleven: I was drafted. I graduated from high school in 1967. And I might go so far as to say I was a very average student -- typical farm kid, kind of apolitical, wasn't real goal-oriented. Really outdoorsy-type kid.
Not knowing what I wanted to do, went out here to a community college, Ridgewood. Graduated with an Associate of Arts degree. Now what do I do? Predetermined for me. Right after graduation, I got a draft notice. Spring of 1969. So that was before the lottery, before the volunteer military. You could still volunteer. But it wasn't real popular during the Vietnam era.
Eichten: Did you think of going to Canada or something like that?
Kleven: I did. I was a kid. I was apolitical. My dad had been in the military in the Second World War. There was a stigma involved in bailing out. Felt maybe it's bad, but no negative stigma. I just went along with it. Hindsight of course is 20/20. I'm not sure that, having to do it all over again, I probably would do it again.
KLEVEN ON TAPE: The Saigon River runs right by our fire support base, maybe 800 meters from here. Nice little path on the other side. The village is between us and the Saigon.
We're not supposed to, but the lieutenant gets a couple of us guys together, we grab our 16s and go swimming. It's kinda fun. All the little gook kids go swimming with us. Some of them are kind of fun. They sure pester you, though. They always want cigarettes from the friendly GIs. I say, "no smoke, no smoke. You bic?" When I say "you bic?" That means "do you understand?"
You know, after you've been here a while you pick up a bunch of Vietnamese slang. It's all a bunch of garp if you ask me. But anyhow, we swim once in a while. It's not all rough. But most of the time it is.
We do a few fun things. I like to ride the choppers. That's my favorite. Like today now, we've got to ride to Tay Ninh. That's beaucoup ways from here. Boy, it'll take a long time to get up there. All I do is just sit. After you've ridden them for a while, the The height doesn't bother you.
One guy sits on the ledge and lets his feet hang out. I'm always on the ledge cause I love that. After a while the height doesn't bother you. You just kind of hang on. It's really fun. (laughs). Helicopter banks and you feel like you'll slide out, but you don't, because of centrifugal force. It's kinda neat.
Eichten and Dan Kleven talking:
Eichten: You sound so enthusiastic, fired up, almost wide-eyed. Fair analysis?
Kleven: Yeah, probably a fair analysis. Early part of my deployment, quite honestly, it was probably a little exciting for some young farm kid from central Minnesota to all of a sudden be in Asia, flying around all the time in helicopters.
Eichten narration: Dan Kleven's tapes were played over and over by his family back home, and brought out for any company that stopped by as well. Dan had three little sisters living with his parents back on the farm. Lisa, our Midday caller, was the youngest. When she joined us for Dan's interview, she talked about making tapes for her older brother.
Lisa Lehrer: Lot of times it was Sunday after church, people would be invited over and mom would make a roast beef dinner, something big and heavy like that. And then family would come over and I just remember my mom saying, "Now talk to Danny! Talk to Danny!" Also on daily basis, which I think probably was nice for you to hear just that life is -- they're still on the farm.
My mom would put it on during suppertime, and we would forget the tape was even on. I'd listen back, and I recall hearing knives and forks clinking and you know, it just takes me back.
Dan Kleven: And on my part, being in Vietnam and listening to those, there was solace in the idea that, "Hey, things are going on as normal." I didn't have to worry about what was going on on that end. Everything was status quo. I could concentrate on just survival.
Eichten narration: Dan's parents also recorded letters to their son. Here are Nellie and Wally Kleven from a tape they made in May of 1970.
NELLIE: Daddy just came in for supper now, he's just having a cold brew. You'd better talk to your son a minute, honey, before this runs out. And then we can get it sent.
WALLY: Hi Danny. How you getting along? If I had half the blabber your mom's got, I'd be OK!
NELLIE: That's a lot of bushwa! (laughs)
WALLY: I wrote you a letter the other day, so I suppose you'll get it before this. So that'll be kind of a dry one. It's about quarter after eight and I just got about 12, no 13, fresh cows. It's the same old story -- snortin' bull and feed calves. It's been hot too. It's about 90, which probably don't seem so hot there but it's hot here anyway.
NELLIE: You got your cream check from First District.
WALLY: Somebody opened it, too!
NELLIE: Yeah, but I didn't know it was your cream check. I just thought it was some of that federal marketing administration stuff. In fact, I almost threw it away. And you also got one share of stock in the First District Association.
WALLY: Big deal.
NELLIE: Yeah, it's worth a dollar.
DAN KLEVEN ON TAPE: Oh, one thing that will interest you a lot, dad, is the people over here, they don't use cars. There's very, very few cars in Vietnam. Once in a while you might see one, a real rich person might have a Dodge or Plymouth. The people around here, everybody rides motorcycles. Yamaha. Suzuki. Small bikes. Probably 50 CC, or at the most, 100 CC.
But what they do -- they pile the whole damned family on bikes. You wouldn't believe it. Here you see a biking coming along and you look and see one person, behind him two little kids, behind him will be mama, older sister. They get the whole family on one of those little buggers. How they do it I don't know but they sure do it.
Not only that, they use them for a truck. They use those scooters -- they'll pile four big bags of rice on the back fender and they're just balancing. The bike can hardly move. It's got to pick up momentum to get going. It's really funny. What us guys have always talked about how these guys would die if you came roaring up on a Harley sportster, a big Triumph, 700 CCs, and go flying by 'em and just drown them in the dust! That's the ultimate of our thoughts.
WALLY KLEVEN ON TAPE: We got a real kick out of you telling about those Hondas, how they ride them over there. But in this book, oh yeah, that book you sent me on Southeast Asia there, Danny, why that was real interesting and I kind of read through all that. Of course, in there it explains lots of bicycles and motorbikes and so forth and so on over there. So I got kind of a kick out of that family deal and the truck (laughs) and all the bags, what have you.
Well, I guess, Danny, that we're running out of time on this reel. I didn't think we would and it's going good. We want to sign off now and give you all our love, and we'll hope to get another one off to you real quick. So I'd better let mom say goodbye.
NELLIE: Be careful and we're proud of you. Be careful so that nothing happens.
WALLY: Praying, and signing off now Danny, and (kissing noise) like mom says.
Eichten narration: Wally and Nellie Kleven's son also got tapes from his buddies -- tapes that focused on guy stuff, student anti-war protests and the situation back home. Here's buddy Larry Anderson on a tape that he made in the spring of 1970, while Larry was a student at Mankato State.
LARRY ANDERSON ON TAPE: Well Dan, I tell you, I got a cassette player here. I borrowed it from a kid across the hall down at school. I went downtown and got a cassette, a blank, but it didn't work. I don't know what was wrong with the damned thing.
I don't know if you heard, I'm sure you have, at least through your Willmar paper, gotten an idea about some of the student unrest happening in our country now. It all kind of started off with a combination of Kent State killings of six students, plus this Tricky Dicky's new plan to go into Cambodia. There's been a lot of unhappy students and establishment so to speak.
The people you know, our parents and this kind of thing, aren't too happy with what's going on. I've just heard today now that Mankato State has given students an option. We have three weeks of school. And the president of the college here is giving all the students an option to either drop courses and take grades they have now, or drop the courses and take an incomplete which will never turn to an F like an incomplete normally does.
Or, what the hell, there's another option too -- oh yeah, well, the third option, of course, would be to finish school. We have 10 days, until the 29th of the month, to decide. And from what I can understand, most of the kids from Mankato will be pulling out, or at least half of them.
I suppose I should stop making this a one-sided tape and start asking you a few questions. I would like to know what you think about the war over there, I mean politically. I know you sure as fuck don't like it. But for the most part, your buddies and your lieutenants and all that shit, what they think of the war and are we winning it, or what the hell the deal is, because we don't get a very true story of what's going on, you know?
Eichten and Kleven talking:
Eichten: You were asked on the these tapes a couple of times when you were overseas what you thought of the student protests and the rest, and I didn't ever hear an answer.
Kleven: (laughter) I guess, you know, I wasn't in favor of the war either, you know. I mean it was like, "What are we DOING over here?" You know? I was apolitical. I was a 19-year-old kid who was interested in girls, watching football, going fishing and swimming. I wasn't real overly concerned about the freedom of protest and that kind of thing. I don't know. At the time I thought, if somebody wanted to protest, fine, if they didn't want to, fine.
Eichten narration: One of the most memorable scenes on Dan Kleven's tapes is Dan interviewing his fellow "grunts" about the war. Now this recording is from the spring of 1970. President Nixon has ordered American troops into Cambodia to prevent the enemy from using it as a staging ground for attacks on South Vietnam.
You'll notice Dan Kleven now refers to himself as "rabbit." It's a nickname he picked up because of his ability to squeeze into Viet Cong tunnels.
KLEVEN ON TAPE: Ladies and gentlemen, Rabbit here. Here we are in the Republic of South Vietnam. And we're pulling a spot-to-spot, bunker-to-bunker interview. And we have some of the foremost grunts of the time with us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to present to you Dizzy and Kidder. Dizzy! Take over Dizz.
DIZZY: Hello people. I'm in my third month here in country and I can't say too much, except for I dislike this place since the first day I got here. But I know I was sent here to do a job, so I must fulfill my tour here in South Vietnam.
KLEVEN: Ladies and gentlemen, we thank Mr. Dizzy. Now, one of our second-most famous grunts in Vietnam, Mr. Kidder. Kidder, would you please take over? (men cheering: Out of sight!)
KIDDER: I can't say too much.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Come on, short-timer!
KIDDER: I'm not too hep on this humping business.
KLEVEN: Dave, we realize you've been wounded in the field and you're risking your life daily for the people of South Vietnam.
KIDDER: Oh, yes, definitely.
KLEVEN: Mr. Kidder, what month are you in here?
KIDDER: I'm in my 11th.
KLEVEN: Ah, yes, your 11th. You say you've been wounded?
KIDDER: Just a little bullet hole through my left arm. Come out the back. Put a little hole in it.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: That's not too bad. At least you have both your legs.
KIDDER: Oh yes, definitely.
KLEVEN: I'm glad to see someone as respectable as yourself, you know, wouldn't lose any limbs over here at least, although it would be worth it for your country, I realize!
KIDDER: Oh yes. I would do it all over again if I had a chance.
KLEVEN: Definitely, without a question. Mr. Kidder, we have this new conflict in Cambodia. Could you say just a few words, your viewpoint on Cambodia?
KIDDER: Well, I can't hardly say anything about Cambodia, because I've never been there and I'm not going to go there. I just don't want to say anything about it.
KLEVEN: I understand. In other words, you think Cambodia would probably be the second mistake that the United States has made.
KIDDER: I don't know about that.
KLEVEN: In recent war years, that is.
KIDDER: Yes. I would say that. Yes, definitely.
KLEVEN: Diz, anything to add about Cambodia? Sock it to the families, Diz, they're waiting.
DIZZY: I feel if we were to be sent in to Cambodia, that I would refuse to go.
KLEVEN: Oh, you would refuse?
DIZZY: Right. I have no power, but we were sent to Vietnam, not to fight a war in Cambodia.
KLEVEN: Well, I realize your viewpoint, Dizzy.
DIZZY: Bad enough being sent here!
KLEVEN: I realize your viewpoint, but you can see that Cambodia is in real bad shape. And the people of the United States realize that us boys over here should be fighting in two countries at once. I mean, you do understand this, don't you?
DIZZY: I understand that, but if only the people would understand. They don't know know how it feels to be over here in the first place.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: And when we get home, we're not going to get nothing, no thanks. No nothing. You know what they'll probably tell me? Where have you been, man? Have you been in jail or something? Yeah man.
KLEVEN: Wow! For a whole year?
SOLDIER: Dig it, man.
KLEVEN: Well, mom and dad, we had our little fun for the evening. Kind of a gas to fool around with the guys like that. Hope it wasn't too much of a hassle for you. Mike got on me -- kid from New York -- so I had to go down and put out the claymores, so we're safe for the evening I guess. Pretty dark now. Sun went down. Sitting on top of bunker kind of waiting around.
Mike's got his tape player on. We're fooling around. All these guys, Joe, Dizzy, Speed, Mike, Lowdown, they're all guys from my platoon and they all kind of voiced a few, (laughs) voiced their opinion on a few things they didn't like, such as C-rations, CO which isn't real good -- we have some good younger leadership as far as a lot of us guys. Oh, like the way we sleep and stuff, you know, grunts in Vietnam, the whole bit. But I don't know. You know, you always got your bitches but then you got your good times too I guess. (laughs) I'm waiting to see them.
Well, a lot of the guys are going to Cambodia. But I don't, as of now, I don't think we will be going. We got transferred to the third brigade which isn't too bad. Instead of Tay Ninh, we got our stand down in Cu-chi now, which is pretty nice. Rest of the guys think so too. Another thing is we'll be moving farther south, which we think is safer -- more booby traps, but then you got a point man you're all right.
Oh, another I was going tell you was Pine Ridge. I never did tell you before, because I was afraid I'd have to go back up there. But about three weeks ago they got five guys killed. Sappers came in the wire and got them, and blew up a lot of bunkers and everything. And we were afraid we'd have to go back up there, but today they tore it down.
(swearing in background) Oh, Mike, he's yelling because the bugs are bad up here. They are bad. They don't seem to bother me too much. What I was saying about Pine Ridge, they tore it down. They had a whole company up there. I believe Alpha company was up there, and they tore it down in one day. Pine Ridge no longer exists. Which is good because it was kind of a target as far as Chuck goes - the gooks that is. And sappers, which are always bad. I'm glad I don't have to go up there again.
Rabbit here in the Republic of South Vietnam. The following hour has been a pre-recorded message sponsored by Delta Company, third platoon in the constant search to peace. Good night and peace to you all. This is Dan Kleven, wishing he was in Minnesota saying, "goodnight Mike."
Eichten narration: At this point in the war, President Nixon had ordered American troops into neighboring Cambodia to interrupt the enemy's supply lines.
KLEVEN ON TAPE: Well, hello everybody. I just got up. This is May 25th. I don't exactly know where to start this tape. I guess you've kinda missed out on about a month of what's been going on over here because I haven't been writing much. I think probably I could start where we went to Cambodia.
It was really weird. No matter anyplace that you went with thick trees, there'd be millions of great big huge bunkers and all kinds of little fences where they kept chickens and pigs. And we finally found out that there had been several NVA and VC divisions in there, but they had all pulled out and gone a lot farther into Cambodia to avoid the Americans. The only gooks they'd left behind was just ones to, you know, guard the caches more or less.
Well, the pointman saw two gooks and they fired, fired back. Everybody hit the ground, and the gooks left or crawled away from right there. And everybody got in line and we started opening up, reconning the area by firing the 60s were opening up. By that time the whole company came over there and everybody was firing in there.
And we thought, "Well, they're either dead or gone," so we got up and started sweeping the area. Everybody got on line and we started going into the area. We got about 20 feet from the bunker and these two gooks pop up from the bunker. God. Augh! And a couple of guys got hit pretty bad. We dusted them off.
We pulled back and then it made the CO mad and he called in the F1-11 fighter jets, and he called in attack air and he called in light fire teams and they were dropping. We were sitting watching, and they were dropping big napalm bombs and 250-pound high explosive bombs. They were dropping in rockets. They were working out with machine guns and mini-guns. Every kind of thing, man. I was just, wow. I just didn't believe it.
Well, they did that for about a half hour, and when we went back in all the trees were down. The bunkers that the gooks were in were just collapsed with trees over them and everything. Wow. They just did a job on them.
Well, anyway, the next day we went in, we no longer got out then we started finding all kinds of stuff. Brand new things laying around, binoculars and ammunition. All kinds of stuff. Well then second platoon, they started finding big bunkers full of stuff in this one area. This is the biggest cache found by our division while we were in Vietnam, and I gotta tell you about it.
This is how damned big it was. They found it about 8 o'clock in the morning and we had to carry the contents of the cache, oh, no more than 200 meters, or I'd say from our house to grandma's house. We had to carry it out of the woods into an open area, so the choppers could get in to take it out. And we started carrying it at about 8 o'clock in the morning and we didn't-- this is a whole company of men carrying this stuff -- we didn't get it out until about 4 o'clock that afternoon. It was just fantastic, the amount of stuff.
Let me tell you some of the things we found. We found 400 brand new mortar rounds, we found 10 brand new machine guns, almost everyone in the company got a brand new Chi-Com pistol, a 9 mm pistol-brand new now. We found sappers -- gook sappers, those are the guys who crawl inside the wire -- we found between 40 and 50 brand new wire cutters. You know, brand new ones. Never been even used.
Oh, let's see. We found brand new shirts. NVA shirts, they were brand new still in the cellophane. I'd say we 80 or 90 of them. What else did we find? Plastic gook ponchos. We found just hundreds of them. Everyone got at least two or three gook ponchos. It's real lightweight vinyl. But it doesn't rip. It's real good.
I know something I didn't mention. We found this medical cache. It had everything you could think of. It had heroin, it had morphine, it had barbiturates and amphetamines and every kind of drug. All of them in vials from France and Russia, Great Britain, Yugoslavia, Czechloslovakia, and all these different places where all these drugs came from.
They had a whole big bag full of syringes, sterile syringes, and they were from the United States. They were given by American Friends Service Committee -- Quakers. And what I'll do, I'll send this deal home in this tape and you can show it to whoever you like. But it really made us guys mad because you know, we're over here fighting and you got bunch of idiots sending the North Vietnamese people supplies and stuff. Goll, I can't hardly believe it. It really made us mad anyway, but I'm going to send it home in the tape and let you read it.
We either burned it or sent it all in. If everybody found as much stuff as we found, it would really help out. You know because like, here's the opinion of all the guys -- you're maybe wondering. Everybody thinks back in the world that they're just escalating the war. Well, I don't know that much about it, but I think strategically it was smart to go into Cambodia. Now, if Nixon will get out like he said he would on the 30th.
Strategically it was smart, because we didn't lose that many guys and yet we got a big body count of North Vietnamese and gooks, plus we eliminated I'd say a big part of their supplies. I'm sure we never will find all of it, but I'm sure we eliminated a good share of it, and that'll just make it a lot easier for us guys here in Vietnam. I mean, like I say, it was strategically, you know, a good move, but yet none of us guys wanted go. I sure didn't want to.
I never want to see that place again. Well, I was getting so every night even just a little twig -- you get nervous after being shot at a lot. You just get nervous. You just kinda, I don't know. Anyhow, at night it would be real dark because of the rainy season, couldn't see your hand in front of you. And some dog would run out from a village, either that or a rabbit or even a twig or stick would fall and make a little noise. Everyone would just open up with machine guns and all kinds of stuff. Wow.
Everyone was real nervous. Glad we're out of there. We got so everyone couldn't wait to get back to Vietnam! Compared to, between Vietnam and Cambodia, wow, there's no comparison. Like, we used to think Vietnam was bad when we'd run into five or six gooks, maybe once a month. Well, heck when you run into 10, 12, 15, or 25 of them every day, about three times a day, wow man, I was glad to get back here. I'm not even kidding. Suckers are all over up there. That's a haven for them. So that's why I'm glad to get back to Vietnam. But I'll be glad to leave here to get back to the world too, in six months, if that ever comes.
Oh, and dig this. (laughs) You won't believe this, but when we were in Cambodia I got hit in the leg (laughs) with some shrapnel, and it wasn't real bad -- it was only three stitches. I didn't even hardly hurt. I didn't even know I got hit until after it was all over. They had to dust me off -- I wasn't even hit hardly. They sewed me up and gave me a Purple Heart.
It didn't hurt or anything. They already took the stitches out and everything. It didn't bother me. It was worth it, because I got to go in two days early from the mission, and they didn't send me out again until the next mission. So it was worth getting hit, heck, for two days out of the field. Wasn't bad at all.
Eichten narration: That was the last cassette that Sgt. Dan Kleven sent home. He says now that combat had hardened him, and he just wasn't that interested in telling his family back here what he was experiencing over there. He was focused, he says, on finishing his mission and getting out alive.
But even though he stopped sending tapes home, he continued receiving tapes in Vietnam. His buddy Larry Anderson at Mankato State made this recording in June of 1970.
LARRY ANDERSON ON TAPE: I got something to tell you, Dan, that you're not going to be too happy about, as I sure as hell wasn't. Um, I got drafted. Yeah. That's right. Drafted.
Tell you what happened. The other night when I called home, Thursday night, and mom said I'd received my induction notice. So I didn't know what the hell to do. First thing I did was I got drunk. But today's Friday and this morning I didn't go to any of my classes. I went down to the Selective Service board in Mankato, talked to the guy there to see what the hell I can do. Plus, Mankato's got a draft information center type thing that's run by Presbyterian minister who's been working with the draft counseling for five years. I talked to him. Wasn't a lot I could do. Isn't a lot I can do about it.
You know, I remembered what you said to me on that last tape that you sent to me about the draft, and don't go in the Army. I ask you Dan, you know like not to say anything to your folks, because I'm not going to tell anybody. Hopefully I can get my ass out of this jam and finish school before I have to go in the service. I haven't talked to your folks yet. It's still Friday night. I usually see them on Sunday, stop over and find out the latest info. My mom says they haven't heard from you in quite a while.
I hope you're making out alright. I was kind of, I don't know if I should say impressed or depressed on that last tape, when you were telling me about that colored fellow, black guy had his shit blown away, you know. That was pretty scary, you know? Thinking right now, keep on thinking about the service, man, I just don't know.
NELLIE KLEVEN ON TAPE: When we got home there was another letter from you, the one you wrote the 19th. Oh, that made us all so happy. I stopped and read it to grandma. It's the one where you told us you'd been placed in a different job and that you were able to be in Dao-Ting with Paul and Ed Shwanke.
We were so happy for you. Grandma cried. I guess I kinda cried, and everybody was so tickled they could hardly stand it. So we were real tickled, Dan, that you won't have to go out and hump anymore. We hope you don't have to do it again. Everybody that's heard about it is so glad you can finally kind of relax a little bit, because they think you've had your share I guess.
Here comes daddy now. He's been out mowing with his new mower and he's had all kinds of aggravations today. I think maybe he should say a little bit to you anyway. Daddy, tell him about your new mower and your red tractor and what kind of troubles you had today, 'cause I brought him up to date now.
WALLY KLEVEN: Hi Danny, we've been wondering whether, I suppose mom -- see now, I don't know what she said.
NELLIE: I've told him everything.
WALLY: She's already told you everything, she says. Well, oh, I don't know. I've been monkeying around today. I don't know if mom told you that big old box elder over there by the grain bin fell over, went right on top of my B. So I had a great big loss. But anyway, the insurance company paid and then I thought, well, we never use the thing anyway so maybe I ought to just get a different mower and forget about it. So I traded mowers and I've been out monkeying with that.
But then the cattle I had on Harold's was out today, so I fixed the fence. Then Hilda called a while later and said some more cattle were off but they weren't mine, so I don't know whose they were. So by the time I get all wound up here, I haven't really done anything.
So we're kinda proud of you with your old Silver Star. And one thing, we were really glad that you're driving jeep back in the rear now. Hope you can keep that up. That will be something. Clean sheets and living like a big shot! (laughs)
LARRY ANDERSON ON TAPE: God, how are you doing, Daniel Rabbit? It's your old buddy, Lar. I figured it's about time that I got a tape off to you here. Sounds like you had a terrific time in Hawaii. I was thinking, Jeez, kinda would have been nice to come over and see you. I just didn't have the dust and couldn't take off school. You'll be home in just a matter of time, won't be that long until I see you.
According to your mom and dad, they said you had a pretty cheery room over there in Hawaii. The pictures you sent of you standing in front of the mountain, that was really nice. Really came out good. We've looked all your pictures. Everyone seems to think, "Yeah, nothing wrong with Rabbit. He looks pretty healthy. Hasn't been suffering a whole lot."
Oh, your dad is pissed at you because you never write. He figures -- he told me last Sunday, he was over, "At least the kid could drop a postcard once a week so we know he's alive, not tied in with some Polynesian chick or something." So anyway, he'd kinda like you to drop him a card let him know things are still cooking, you know.
Well, you're coming home the 22nd of February, and I'll probably be going in the Army about a month later than that. Fuck. What can you say? God, it's such a frustrating -- well, shit. But I suppose if I get this college thing taken care of and have that under my belt anyway. Be a college grad. Big fucking deal. But I guess it's something. It's kinda nice to have.
This summer, you know, I probably told you this before, but we were over at your dad's place. He got all your medals in the mail and God, we checked them out over coffee one morning. We were looking at them all. Really pretty impressive, Dan, you getting all those medals. Everybody's really kind of proud of you. You can feel proud yourself, I suppose.
Eichten narration: Larry Anderson never did have to go to Vietnam. It turned out he had high blood pressure. He passed away in 2006. For his part, Sgt. Daniel Kleven left Vietnam in February of 1971, having served a total of 19 months in the Army -- 11 months at war in Vietnam.
Dan Kleven today: You know, I've had interesting things happen to me, like the birth of children, parents die, getting married. Really huge things that would happen in a normal person's life. But none of those things compare to the exhilaration when I sat in that jet and it lifted -- it lifted off of the runway to fly home.
Eichten narration: In the space of just 60 hours, Dan Kleven went from a dangerous jungle combat zone to the safety of his parents' farm in Willmar. It was quite an adjustment. His parents wanted to throw him a party, but Dan remembers he talked them out of it. He says he just needed time to calm down.
Kleven: It was really tough to sleep in a bed. I ended up sleeping on the floor most of the time for the first month or so.
Eichten narration: Dan Kleven says when he returned home to Willmar, he got a good reception -- unlike many other Vietnam War vets when they went home. He took some time to travel to Europe, went back to college for a four-year degree, and ran the family dairy farm with his father. He eventually sold off the cows and took a job in seed development for the Pioneer Company.
As Dan, his sister Lisa, and I flip through photo albums on his dining room table, Kleven's 18-year-old son Andrew is nearby watching.
Andrew: I had never seen any of those.
Lisa: I hadn't either. I don't know where you've been holding these up.
Andrew: I've lived here for 18 years, I never knew he had these. I mean, I've seen a couple of them.
Eichten: Does he talk much about his service, Andrew?
Eichten: Not at all?
Eichten: You ever ask him?
Andrew: You know, when I was younger I used to ask him sometimes, but he still wouldn't, he wouldn't say much about it.
Eichten narration: Kleven says he talks with school groups, but he avoids talking about combat. It's just not a pleasant thing, he says. He says nobody can be proud of causing death and injury.
Dan Kleven isn't someone who dwells on the negative. He's careful to point out what he learned from the experience, the good training he received, and important friendships he forged when he was 19. He says Vietnam helped him put life in perspective.
But Vietnam also shaped Kleven's views about when it's worth fighting a war. And when it's worth sending his own sons to war.
Dan Kleven: In my mind, you size up the war situation and there has to be a compelling reason to get involved in death and destruction. And maybe the Holocaust would be, obviously, a legitimate reason. But I really struggled, in regard to Vietnam, I really struggled with what the legitimacy was for us being there.
I don't quite honestly want my kids being involved in some inadvertent political war with no win for anybody, it's just sort of some military machine thing going on. I don't want them involved.
In fact, I know this sounds harsh -- and I'm not a rude person -- but I quite honestly have been at least subtly rude to military recruiters that make an effort to call my kids. I've told them, "Look, don't call back." I don't mean to be harsh, but I don't need my kids to go through what I went through. It was a waste. It was a waste.
Sasha Aslanian is a reporter with MPR News' Twin Cities metro reporting unit.
MPR News Editor-at-Large and Retired Host Gary Eichten has worn many hats during his 40-plus-year career at Minnesota Public Radio, including news director, special events producer and station manager.