GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- U.S. Army veteran Richard Krajewski remembers the sacrifices of his comrades who were wounded or killed during the years he served in Vietnam. He doesn’t want civilians to forget them, or the many other Americans who have lost their lives fighting the nation's wars.
The Grand Forks resident for the past 10 years has been a member of the Disabled American Veterans' Chapter 2 Honor Guard. As a sergeant of the Honor Guard, he presents flags to the spouses of deceased veterans at funerals or graveside services and gives the firing commands for 21-gun salutes.
Monday, Krajewski will give firing commands for the 21-gun Memorial Day salute at Memorial Park South Cemetery in Grand Forks. He has been a member of the DAV Honor Guard for 10 years, and served as DAV state commander from 2012-2013.
Military service has played a significant role in Krajewski’s life, first as a member of the U.S. Army, then the Army National Guard, and finally, as a equipment management supervisor at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Krajewski's military career began with his enlistment in the U.S. Army on Dec. 29, 1964, at age 17.
“I had my mother sign for me,” he said.
His mother was hesitant about him joining the Army, but Krajewski convinced her that the military would be a good career.
After Krajewski enlisted, he went to Armor Tanks School in Fort Knox, Ky., then was assigned to the 73rd Armor Battalion in Camp Roberts, Calif., where he spent nine months doing military training, including a special assignment in which he tested the M-60 machine gun for the Army.
In late October 1965, Krajewski received orders to go to Vietnam; he arrived on Dec. 13, 1965, the day he turned 18. He was a door gunner for the 128th Assault Helicopter Co., shooting M-60 machine guns from 3:30 a.m. to midnight over Vietnam jungles.
“We did aerial assaults, dropped off troops for search-and-destroy," Krajewski said. “We were like the workhorses of Vietnam. We supported the infantry, airborne infantry, Rangers, Special Forces, Navy Seals, mercenaries and covert missions with the CIA.”
Six months after he arrived in Vietnam, Krajewski was part of a medical evacuation team that was shot down in a landing zone by hostile fire.
On Sept. 10, 1966, Viet Cong soldiers overheard on their radios that U.S. Army infantry troops that were under attack on the ground would be putting yellow powder on the spot where Krajewski’s helicopter pilot should land to pick up wounded U.S. soldiers.
The helicopter pilot landed on the yellow powder, but it turned out the Viet Cong quickly put down the powder when it overheard the exchange between the infantry and helicopter pilot.
“We flew right into those guys,” Krajewski said. The aircraft was immediately surrounded by Viet Cong soldiers who were firing at it.
After another Army helicopter came to their rescue, dropping rockets on the enemy, Krajewski waded through knee-deep mud to help rescue wounded Vietnamese soldiers onto a rescue helicopter.
He was awarded a bronze star for the rescue. During the Vietnam tour, Krajewski also received 17 air medals. One air medal is given for each 25 hours of combat.
He never considered himself brave, and said he didn’t think too much about the danger he was in when he served in Vietnam, Krajweksi said
“We were a band of brothers. You’re all 18 to 22,” he said. “When you’re around your band of brothers, everyone is pushing each other, and you forget about the fear. You’ve got a job,and nobody wants to quit.”
Krajewski served another seven months in the Army after his helicopter was shot down. He separated from the service in April 1967.
Three years later, Krajewski re-enlisted, and served a one-year tour in Vietnam, this time in an administrative position in the 25th Infantry. During that time he became a naturalized U.S., citizen, something that meant much more to him than the medals.
Krajewski is the son of German parents who spent four years in separate Nazi prison camps, met afterward and were married. He lived with his parents for two years in Kassel, Germany, before they immigrated to the United States and moved to Grafton.
Krajewski continued his military service after his second tour, joining the Army National Guard; he served until 1999.
During his years in the National Guard, where he was a platoon sergeant with A Company 8 , Krajewski helped Grand Forks residents who were stranded in their homes when the Red River flooded in April 1997. In 2008, Krajewsiki retired from civil service at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
In all, Krajewski was involved in military service for more than 40 years
Throughout his long career, in whatever capacity he’s served, Krajawesk was honored to be a member of the armed forces, and now, to pay tribute to the men and women who died defending their country.
“I love the military,” he said. “I take pride in the Honor Guard service.”