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Serving honorably: Veteran gets medals 60 years late

It may have taken 60 years, but World War II veteran Mel Klotz, 87, has received his medals of honor.

After serving 18 months on Papua New Guinea during WWII, Klotz, of Detroit Lakes, earned three medals -- Army Good Conduct, Asiatic Pacific Campaign and Victory World War II.

When he returned from the war to Camp McCoy, Wis., they were out of medals. He never pursued the medals after that, but once he got involved with the local veterans affairs, veterans service officer Dennis Warling made sure Klotz got his medals.

"And finally, here they came," he said.

Klotz served from June 14, 1943-Jan. 14, 1946. He arrived on New Guinea, located near Australia, just weeks after a cease-fire. One month before he got there, a bomb had dropped on New Guinea.

Klotz left by ship from San Francisco to New Guinea. It took 28 days to get there. Not only did the unescorted ship travel slowly, it would go three minutes in one direction and then three minutes in another direction to avoid torpedoes, he said.

On the way home, though, the ship traveled much faster and straighter, getting the men home in 16 days.

On the island of New Guinea, Klotz served as a switchboard operator.

"There were six men working hard and fast, getting the calls through, day and night," he said.

During the war, Klotz, who is originally from Morgan, Minn., was never issued a rifle, although he knew how to take it apart and assemble it in the dark from boot camp training. Thankfully, he was never involved in a conflict situation where he would've needed it.

"I felt blessed I didn't have to kill anyone," he said.

As Klotz sits back in his apartment in Detroit Lakes, he easily remembers his time in New Guinea.

The New Guinea base Klotz was stationed at was a large supply base, with 13 piers used for loading and unloading ships. There were two hospitals on the base, with full services.

Besides being a serviceman, Klotz had several other duties. He was part of a group that went to church in one of the hospitals, and he sang in the choir. He was also a part of a male quartet.

If that wasn't enough, in his time off, Klotz cut hair.

"What did Mel do," he said, "I got out my sewing kit. It didn't look good, but who cared."

He used the small scissors that came in his sewing kit until he received a clipper from the States.

"I kept myself busy," he said.

After the war, Klotz said the men would help pass time with fish fries, baseball and movies.

A group of missionaries with the American Lutheran Church came to New Guinea. Klotz drove the missionaries around the base and visited with the villagers, something he said was "very interesting."

He was about to accompany the group across the island when he was discharged back to Camp McCoy.

"I was discharged after the war was over, but was there (New Guinea) four months after the war because I didn't have enough points," he said.

Soldiers were sent home in order of the amount of time and points they had from serving during the war.

Once back in the States, Klotz used his money from the service to attend college for electronics.

He learned to read and type code at 14 words per minute.

"Never used it again, but the ability was there. I could only communicate with a ship out in the bay," he said with a laugh.

Klotz said he feels very blessed he avoided most diseases, like malaria, while on the tropical New Guinea. The only thing he caught was jungle rot.

Temperatures in New Guinea were very hot from being on the equator. There was lots of rain, and the island was mountainous. The second largest island in the world, New Guinea is about 350 miles across and 2,000 miles long, he said.

The island included wild boars and poisonous snakes, including the python. Although he never actually saw a python, he heard stories.

The natives of the land would yell a certain sound when a python would get a hold of them. "Everyone would come with machetes to chop it up," he said.

Klotz returned to the States, and lived the majority of his life in Minnesota. He married his wife, Alpha, in the Twin Cities. A daughter and grandchildren live in Lake Park, so the Klotzes found their way to Detroit Lakes.

About a year ago, Klotz had open-heart surgery and was put in contact with Warling.

"He all of a sudden appeared," Klotz said.

Alpha said she plans to have the three medals framed for her husband.

"I knew about them after I was discharged, but I got involved in making a living and completely forgot about it," Klotz said of his medals.

Luckily someone had a record that he still deserved them -- 60 years later.