The United States has left few generations untouched by war. Sometimes those involved were there voluntarily but often times not. One war that receives little attention in the history books is the Korean War from 1950-1953. This war was one of the ‘hot’ conflicts of the Cold War with two major powers, the United States and China, backing the North and South Korean forces respectively. With more than a million dead or missing and another million plus wounded as well as over two million civilians killed or wounded, this was a very costly war in terms of human life and suffering, yet little changed as a result of the war in land or ruling governments. The most well-known view of the Korean War was from the T.V. show MASH which ran from 1972-83, nearly four times as long as the war itself. One local man who was drafted to serve during the Korean War, Harold Klote, recently shared his story with The Journal.
Klote was born in Quincy, Illinois but his family moved to Edina, Missouri when he was only two years old. The family owned a farm and it was there that he was raised and graduated high school. He attended Chillicothe Business College where he earned a business degree before taking a job in Kansas City in 1948. Klote was drafted into the Army on November 5, 1950 and was a resident of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri by November 25, 1950 where he received his basic training.
Many people say that one decision can change the entire course of a person’s life and that certainly proved true for Klote. “The first sergeant of the basic training company was looking for somebody to type. They’d always told me to never volunteer for typing ever. Iit was a windy, snowy, cold day and I volunteered.” It seems that even the army in 1950 had troubles making every recruit a morning person because Klote replaced a less dependable corporal clerk. The sergeant told Klote, ‘I’ve got a company clerk, but I can’t get him out of bed in the morning and I’m getting behind in my stuff.’ So after completing his daily basic training duties, Klote would go to the sergeant’s office and work all evening and late into the night. This was a grueling schedule to keep, but the shrewd sergeant knew how to make it worth it to Klote. “He said, ‘If you get me out of this mess, any time you want a pass, just come see me.’” Klote proved himself to be such a valuable asset with his typing and shorthand skills that he was sent to battalion headquarters even before his basic training was complete. After only a couple of weeks there, the warrant officer in charge was transferred to regimental headquarters and he made sure that Klote went with him. That is where he spent the next two years of his service before going into the reserves. “I only spent one week off of Fort Leonard Wood post and I was playing softball in Fort Benjamin Harrison at a fifth army tournament,” remembers Klote. “Two years went by pretty fast.”
Life at Fort Leonard Wood was not easy. Constructed out of wood in the 1940s, the barracks were cold and drafty and extremely sparse. “It was primitive,” said Klote. He recalled heavy snows which made life even more difficult. One time during their bivouac training, they were sleeping in two person tents they had set up when it snowed on them. “They always cautioned us to not tighten the ropes on our tent poles because if it rained or snowed the tents would collapse. We had lots of snow and ours didn’t fall down, but there was a lot of noise out in the campsite in the dark from those that did fall,” said Klote with a chuckle. On top of that they often had to deal with clothing issues and food shortages especially bread.
Despite his in demand skill set, Klote only received $78 per month while he was in basic training. Working at headquarters, Klote had many responsibilities including making sure the military mail was returned and forwarded promptly through channels. One of the responsibilities of the position he held was to take notes during interrogations of prisoners at the stockade which put him in some tense situations. “I saw a lot of nasty stuff,” recalled Klote. Another duty that fell to him that was much less stressful was finding the best mess hall where his headquarters company, of fifty people, could eat as they were not assigned to a mess hall in particular.
After his time in the Army was up, Klote worked at several companies in office manager positions. In 1954 he married Dorothy and they soon started a family that would eventually grow to five children, sixteen grandchildren and five great-grand children. While he may not have travelled much in the military, he more than made up for it with his family later traveling around much of the United States and through parts of Europe. He and his wife now reside as original members of the Benton House in Raymore.
Being a member of the military, Klote was able to take part in the Honor Flight program. He and his son, Ron, along with a plane full of one hundred and fifty people including fellow veterans and their guardians, flew to Washington D.C. in 2016 where they visited several destinations including the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Iwo Jima, U.S. Air Force, and Lincoln Memorials as well as Arlington Cemetery. To ensure that the group could visit as many places as possible they were given a police escort around the city thereby avoiding traffic lights and congestion. His favorite part of the journey was getting to read thirty letters from friends, family, and school kids on the flight home. While it is certainly a trip of a lifetime, it is a long one day journey. “You’re pretty sopped out,” said Klote.
Volunteering for typing duty on that cold day may very well have saved Klote’s life as his shipping orders were rescinded, keeping him in a position at headquarters rather than being shipped overseas to fight in Korea. While he describes his service as ‘soft duty,’ Klote’s service was as instrumental in keeping the Army working as those that served overseas. Without adequate support staff, those on the front lines could not carry on their duties. At 90 years old, Klote said with confidence, “Looking back, I’ve had a pretty good life.” And really isn’t that what we all hope for.