Basic Training MEMORIES
April 11, 2017
After graduation from high school in 1966, I worked on my father’s farm until I was about to be drafted. I have four brothers who were in the military during the Vietnam era: Pete, drafted in 1965 and completing a tour in Vietnam returning home in 1967, Gary, joined the Air Force in 1965 and was stationed in Duluth, Minn.; Dave was in the local Army Reserve Unit since 1965, and kid brother Lynn joined the Marines fresh out of high school in 1967 and was currently serving in Vietnam.
One of my best friends had already received his draft notice to report on June 17, 1968, so I thought I would go to the draft board to see if they would tell me my approximate date of notification. They told me sometime in July 1968, so I decided to volunteer a month ahead of time so I could go with my friend Denny.
We left by bus from Wabasha, Minn.,(Home of Grumpy Old Men) on the early morning of June 17, 1968. Along with Denny and I, there were five other familiar faces from the surrounding communities. We went to the federal building in Minneapolis for our pre-induction physicals and swearing in to the Army. I still remember watching this guy wearing cowboy boots while getting one of the required vaccinations, he fainted and fell on the floor of the dispensary, and we were all dressed in just our shoes and underwear! After all the physicals and swearing in, I got back together with Denny, he said he was going back home as he flunked his physical. What a letdown for my first day honorably serving my country! I regrouped with John and Gary, two other guys I attended school with.
We stayed overnight at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis and the next morning a plane load of us flew from Minneapolis to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After we landed at Fort Campbell an NCO boarded the plane and called out the name and service number (all starting with U.S.) of about 12 of us to deplane for further instruction. When we got to the bottom of the ramp another NCO told us to stand over on the grass. I thought “Gee” we’re pretty special, this is “OK”! Then reality set in when a “Bird Colonel” approached the base of the ramp. The NCO on the plane then called the rest of the troops to deplane, as they reached the bottom of the ramp the Colonel shook the hand of each of them and thanked them for joining the Army! Once we were done being loaded onto the buses to the Fort Campbell induction center, WE all were treated the same!
Basic training was kind of fun, frightening, and surreal. You had your moments when you said “What am I doing here” and then there was lots of laughter. You shaped up fast! As a 19 year old whose longest trip away from home was Duluth (230 miles) and cried when I was at 4-H Camp (40 miles from home), I thought I was holding up pretty good.
During our free time and on weekends I would get together with my hometown friends. Al and Mike were a couple weeks ahead of us in training and were stationed just up the block. We would meet for beer at the PX Beer Garden on Saturdays when we could get off. This one afternoon Mike Clickner, John LaRocque and I were having beers and this guy came up to us and asked if we would like a photo taken of us together for a buck. We said sure, we we’re rolling in dough, ($93.00 a month) only thing we had to buy were soap, toothpaste, and beer!
We all got through basic training without a scar! I went on to Fort Lewis, Wash., for Advanced Infantry Training, John went to Jump School and Advanced Infantry Training, and Mike went to Jump School¸ Advanced Infantry Training, and Ranger School. After our training, I was sent to the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, John went to Germany, and Mike became a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
I returned home from Korea in February of 1970 and ETS’d with an early out, John returned from Germany and ETS’d in June of 1970. Unfortunately we lost Mike on April 11, 1970; he was killed by a land mine near Binh Dinh, South Vietnam. I had just started my lifelong career on the railroad on April 13, 1970; this was a disheartening event for a very patriotic Clickner Family, the community, and including me.
In 2006 I was going through some of my army junk and found the instamatic photo of Mike, John and myself. I took the photo to Proex in Apple Valley, MN where I lived at that time and had a negative made and from the negative several 8 x 10 b/w photos were made. Mike’s sister Mandy worked at a restaurant in Kellogg and her mother still lived in Wabasha. I presented a copy of the photo to them and also a copy to John. They were very appreciative.
In February of 2011 my wife Gloria and I made a trip by automobile to Tuscaloosa, AL to visit her brother, on our trip I took notice of some bridge overpasses that were named to memorialize members of the military that were fatally wounded in the Gulf Wars. I don’t remember which state it was but I did come home with some thoughts in mind.
In 2012, Gloria and I discussed the possibility of having the Interstate Bridge over the Mississippi River at Wabasha renamed in the memory of my friend and comrade, Mike Clickner! Mike was the only person from Wabasha to die in the Vietnam War. I first contacted all of Mike’s family individually for approval of my idea and received heartfelt letters of approval from all. In early 2013 I wrote a Resolution to rename the bridge to be approved by the City of Wabasha as part of my plan was to have signs erected and a stone monument placed near the bridge in Mike’s memory. With a lot of help from the City Administrator, Chad Springer, the Resolution was passed. From there I sent the Resolution to our Minnesota District 21 Senator Matt Schmidt to get legislative approval. The resolution was sent to committee, approved by the legislators and attached to a transportation bill and signed by Governor Dayton near the end of the 2013 legislative session.
On October 25, 2013 a dedication ceremony was held in the park under the bridge where a stone marker now makes tribute to Mike’s sacrifice and that of his family. The ceremony included remarks from Senator Schmidt, Mayor Hall, Floyd Riester 173rd Airborne, and many other dignitaries attended including Color Guards and Honor Guards from military organizations from surrounding communities. Don Hager, Commander of Wabasha VFW Post 4086 and I, then Commander of Wabasha American Legion Post 50, together unveiled the monument in Mike’s honor.
A Donation Fund was created by the City of Wabasha to help pay for the monument and the highway signs.
Early in this venture, I invited the Mayor to my home to discuss with him personally what I had in mind; he said “it will never happen”. I have to say, I live in and near communities that are and will always be there for our veterans and their families.
William J. Hager
Past Commander, Wabasha American Legion Post 50 (Hometown Post of 2 Past National Commanders)