I have been hesitant until now to write of a fallen hero from the Vietnam War. Many of my friends’ fathers and uncles served in that conflict and that “closeness” makes it difficult. Even in writing this post, I found myself getting more emotional than I typically do when writing of these heroes.
Martin Douglas Klann (1945-1968) was born in Cuyahoga County on September 3, 1945, the son of George E. Klann (1913-1994) and Anna Zukerowski (1916-2009). George Klann was originally from Cuyahoga County and moved his family from there to Tuscarawas County in the late 1940s following his brief service in the United States Army during World War Two. There were four children in the Klann household, including Martin, and they initially settled in Bowerstown.
Eventually George would move the family to New Philadelphia, where he was advertised as a representative for an awning company. George also appeared in the local newspaper in the 1950s taking part in bowling leagues and golf tournaments. Anna Klann’s appearances in the paper mostly involved admissions to, and dismissals from, Union Hospital. Martin (sometimes referred to as Marty) attended New Philadelphia High School until his junior year in 1964.
Martin enlisted in the United States Army before his senior year in high school and would complete his schooling in the army. After he completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia he was sent to helicopter school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Following the completion of his studies there, Martin was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas to prepare UH-1 “Huey” helicopters for service in Vietnam. It was while stationed in Texas that he was assigned as a crew chief in the 240th Aviation Company, also known as the “Greyhounds.”
The UH-1 helicopter crew consisted initially of the pilot, co-pilot (also the gunner in certain types), and a crew chief. The crew chief inspected and prepared the helicopter for flight, inspected it completely after flights, and undertook maintenance on the helicopter as needed in the field. The crew chief also served as a door gunner and was the pilot’s “eyes” when approaching a landing zone. In this role, he would let the pilot know of trees, obstructions and other potential hazards that might be encountered as the helicopter landed and took off in combat.
The 240th’s designation was changed to Assault Helicopter Company after they deployed to Vietnam in May 1967. The unit was assigned to Bear Cat Camp, just west of Saigon, though they would occasionally be based temporarily elsewhere. The 240th was assigned to primarily support 9th Infantry Division activities throughout the south of Vietnam. As an assault company, the 240th was used to airlift troops into combat and, if necessary, extract them as well. Dangerous work.
Since I do not have access to the complete after actions reports, etc. related to the 240th’s activities in Vietnam, it is difficult to determine the number of missions flown during Martin’s service with the unit. The sheer number of awards that Martin received posthumously would indicate that there were many, and that they were very dangerous missions indeed. However, using the records that are available from a variety of sources, I do believe I have determined the action that took Martin’s life.*
Operation Saratoga was a search and destroy operation that took place in provinces near and along the Cambodian border, northwest of Saigon. The operation was undertaken by elements of the 25th Infantry Division, with support from other necessary units including the 240th. The operation started in early December 1967 and ended in the first weeks of March 1968.
Early in the morning of January 10 the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment’s night defensive position in Hậu Nghĩa Province was attacked by enemy forces. The 1st Battalion was able to fend off the attack, with the help of called-in artillery and air support, with a loss of five men killed. Later in the day, the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment conducted an air mobile assault to establish another night defensive position. According to the unit’s after action report, at 3:03 pm one of the supporting helicopters received small arms fire and was downed resulting in casualties.
The official record of Martin Klann’s death dates it to January 10, 1968, that he was wounded by small arms fire, and died from those wounds. It also states that the cause of death included “air loss crash” indicating that the helicopter he was in had crashed, or crash landed, and was lost. A review of the “Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Monthly Summary, January 1968” listing for January 10, 1968 lists only one instance where a helicopter was lost that day to enemy action (see image above). I believe that SP 5 Martin Klann’s helicopter was the one referenced in these reports.
The August after Martin’s death, the family was presented with the medals that Martin had earned during his service in Vietnam. Lt. Colonel William B. Self, representing the United States Army, officiated the somber event. The colonel stated that “I have never known a man who has been so highly decorated.” Martin’s family received his Purple Heart, Air Medal with 19 oak clusters, Bronze Star with 19 oak clusters, National Defense Service Ribbon, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal awarded buy the Republic of Vietnam. The medals were placed in a bureau next to a photograph of their fallen hero.
* My conclusion is based on the information and records that I have access to at this time. I would welcome any potential evidence that would provide more accurate information. Please email me via my contact page if you have more information on the service of Martin Klann.
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© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.