Vietnam-era veteran Klein enlisted in the Navy at 17

Mike KnaakFeatured News, Print St. Joseph, St. Joseph0 Comments

The American Legion is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. In addition to national and statewide activities commemorating this milestone, American Post 328 of St. Joseph is planning a number of festive and patriotic activities for the community.  

One of those special events will be profiles of St. Joseph-area veterans published in each Newsleader during 2019. The Newsleader is joining with Post 328 to recognize veterans and Legion members who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict and Cold War tensions.

by Tom Klecker

St. Joseph American Legion

Ronald Leo Klein, 72, U.S. Navy, Vietnam era. 

Prior to enlisting in the Navy, Ron grew up in St. Joseph. He was an altar boy for 10 years and he attended Cathedral High School. After high school, Ron worked at the local lumber yard.

Ron enlisted in the Navy at 17 – one day before his 18th birthday.  The program under which he enlisted was called “the Kiddie Cruiser Program” – go in as a teenager and complete your period of active duty in three years at age 21.

Ron completed his basic training in San Diego, California, and Class A Schooling for machinist mate at Great Lakes, Illinois. After graduating from Class-A school, Ron was given orders to report to the USS Mississinewa.

The Mississinewa was a large refueling ship that had the capacity to carry 10 million gallons of fuel.

Ron’s home ports for this Sixth Fleet ship were in Naples, Italy, and Newport, Rhode Island. Ships refueling at sea, particularly two ships simultaneously, was not without risk. On one particular occasion, there was a near collision between two ships during refueling operations.

Life on board ship usually involved working 16-hour days below deck. The confined quarters being such, Ron slept in bunks four high.

Being in the Navy’s Sixth Fleet was not without its perks. While in the Navy, Ron experienced many major ports of call. He had liberty in  Spain, Greece, Turkey and Italy. By Ron’s estimate, he had about 15-20 ports of call, “I got to see the world.”

The ship Ron was on had a complement of 300 officers and enlisted personnel.  Seventy-five of those 300 on board the Mississinewa had Idaho driver licenses. What are the odds of that being a bona fide legitimate occurrence? Probably a very remote possibility at best. If the truth be told, the ingenuity of sailors who were too young to legally drink alcohol prompted them to apply for a driver’s license with falsified dates of birth. First, the sailors secured and completed the necessary applications for an Idaho driver license.

With a current photograph and a $5 fee, they mailed off the license application. Within weeks their shiny new driver license arrived.

For a while, Ron seriously considered re-enlisting. He was discharged from the Philadelphia Naval Receiving Station on Dec. 21, 1967. Ron returned home in time for Christmas. He flew home in uniform to Minneapolis and took a bus to St. Cloud. Within a week of being home in St. Joseph, Ron met his future wife, Joyce. Joyce worked at the bank on Minnesota Street, across from the church.  Now the building is housed by Rockhouse Productions.

After a 2½ year courtship, they married in April 1970.  Ron and Joyce will be married 49 years in April.

After a very emotionally painful miscarriage and a stillbirth, Joyce and Ron were blessed with two daughters.  Ron and Joyce have three grandsons.

After his discharge from the Navy, Ron bartended at the Midway for six months and at Landy packing for all of four hours. Having applied at St. Cloud Hospital, Ron was hired as an orderly, working in the area of physical therapy. He retired from St. Cloud Hospital after 40 years.

Restless and still not ready for retirement, Ron worked another 10 years for Coborn’s pharmacy, delivering prescription drugs and medical equipment.

In retirement, Ron enjoys hunting and fishing. Joyce suffered a cerebrovascular accident three years ago thus requiring Ron’s help and encouragement.

Ron was the local American Legion Post 328 Commander for three years and also continues to be the post’s adjutant for the past 17 years.

When asked to reflect on his military experience, Ron stated: “It was an enjoyable experience. I got to see the world.”

With Ron’s long employment at St. Cloud Hospital, as also his American Legion responsibilities, it is quite evident his compassion and commitment to serve people in general and veterans, in particular, continues to be a priority in his life.

contributed photo
Ron Klein.

contributed photo
Ron Klein in 1966, age 20.

Author: Mike Knaak

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