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Spec. Larry Werner holds the uniform he wore during his days as a soldier in the U.S. Army.

While Larry Werner fought in Vietnam, it was his infant son who became a casualty of the war.

Werner, 68, is the son of a "sidewalk farmer," who lived in McClusky and farmed two miles east of town. When he was 19 years old, the Vietnam War draft was in effect.

Werner was recruited to the U.S. Army and went to basic training in Fort Lewis, Wash. After that, he went to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for more training in construction engineering on heavy equipment. In the fall of 1968, Werner shipped out to Bien Hoa, Vietnam.

"It was at night when we got off the plane. It was humid and smelly, very warm, and it had just started raining," he recalled.

After inprocessing, he was flown to Pleiku, Vietnam, and placed in a combat engineering unit, where he was on machine guns —M-50s and M-60s — for three months.

"In October of '68, we got hit three, four times a week, and always at night with mortars," Werner said. "That was the worst Tet Offensive of the whole war: '68 and '69."

He and others in his unit went on mine sweeps daily, and, because he was trained in combat engineering, he said he had no clue what they were doing. He was later placed on a bulldozer and sent to a town in the Central Highlands region where he cleared thick jungle, or the “field of fire," with the large machinery.

"They wanted to clear it out from the road, or by camp, about 300 yards on each side,” he said of the actions they took so they wouldn't be surprised by enemy combatants.

Early one morning at the camp, a group of Americans were attacked while eating breakfast. The next day, the post commander sent him to clear the jungle on a hillside to avoid future attacks, and he remembers standing atop the hill while they sprayed Agent Orange overhead, which was used at that time to kill the vegetation.

"I kind of look up and thought, they must be spraying for mosquitoes. No one had really heard of Agent Orange all that much,” he said. "I got a good dose."

Werner would later learn the effects of the chemical. He returned to North Dakota in October 1969 and married his wife, Mary, a childhood friend, who still recalls playing Red Rover when they were kids.

Next, he was assigned to a unit in Neu Ulm, Germany. In November 1970, his wife had a baby there — a son, who was born with part of his esophagus missing. Two weeks later, the infant died. The Army sent their son’s body back with them to North Dakota to be buried in their hometown of McClusky.

The hardest thing was losing their son, whom they consider a casualty of the war. More than 45 years after his death, the Werners still struggle with that loss. Six years after that boy's death, they had another baby, Brian, who was born healthy.

"(During the war) we didn’t really know what was going on, but had heard somewhat of Agent Orange,” said Werner, who also attributes his heart problems to exposure of Agent Orange. He's had five heart bypass surgeries and, recently, a heart stent.

After his service, he worked for Food Services of America in Bismarck until the warehouse closed. He also operated snowplows for the state Department of Transportation for 20 years, then retired. He and his wife take care of their two grandchildren and spend time traveling.

“I don’t know if anybody knows why we had that war. At the time, it sounded like the right thing to do," said Werner adding there are still things he saw in Vietnam that he can’t forget. "We did what our government asked us to do, not knowing what it would do to us for the rest of our lives."

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Spec. Larry Werner operated a military bulldozer when stationed at An Khe, Vietnam, when in the U.S. Army.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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