An animated bearing, humorous reflections and wide grin seem to define the demeanor of Larry Siedenburg. His effusive personality, however, belies many of the hardships and losses he experienced as a combat soldier during the Vietnam War—service that earned him promotion to sergeant and the award of two Bronze Stars for valor in addition to an Air Medal.
“I grew up in the small community of Lone Elm and attended a Lutheran School there through the eighth grade,” Siedenburg recalled. “I eventually graduated from Bunceton High School in 1967 and decided to continue my education at Capitol Business College in Jefferson City,” he added.
Earning his degree in business administration and accounting in the spring of 1970, he was employed as a management trainee with J.C. Penney in Kansas City, Kansas. A few months later, he received his draft notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army in June 1970.
“I entered the Army in Kansas City and then they put a group of us on a bus and sent us to basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood,” he explained. “My training company did quite well and we actually set records with the number of soldiers that qualified as experts on the rifle range and also in several aspects of our physical training.”
Siedenburg also noted that when his basic training was finished, the Army made the decision that he should serve as an infantryman, sending him to Ft. Polk, Louisiana, to begin advanced infantry training. Throughout the next several weeks, he and his fellow soldiers trained with rifles, grenades, and mortars in addition to performing combat patrols while learning map reading land navigation.
“I was a squad leader during the training and it was fun,” he said. “Overall, everyone there wanted to learn everything possible because we all figured that we were headed to Vietnam as soon as the training was finished.”
His suspicions were proven correct after completing his advanced training in October 1970, at which time he received orders to report to Fort Ord, California, in preparation for deployment to Vietnam. For the next “week or so,” he performed guard duty and other seemingly mundane tasks while waiting to board the commercial aircraft for his overseas flight. Upon arrival in Vietnam in November 1970, he was assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry under the 196th Infantry Brigade, operating out of a U.S. Army base at Chu Lai. Shortly after his arrival, Siedenburg explained, he transferred to a nearby site named “Hawk Hill.”
“Hawk Hill was a fire base and we made our patrols from that location,” he said. “We were a ‘swing battalion,’ so wherever there was a hotspot with regard to enemy activity, that’s where they sent us.”
The veteran explained that he participated in a number of combat assaults and was often inserted into these hotspots by helicopters.
“When the helicopter flew in to deliver us to an assault area, we had three seconds to get off the aircraft or else you were taking a big jump because they had to get out of there quickly or risk being shot down,” he said.
There were many missions, he affirmed, where it appeared they were needlessly expending both time and lives of soldiers when taking certain objectives.
“On occasion, we were sent in to take a certain area by pushing out the enemy in that area,” he said. “Then we would pull back and the enemy would come back in and take the area over again, which was followed by us going back in and pushing them back out,” he shrugged in disbelief.
On another mission, he recalls being a member of a team of approximately two dozen infantrymen sent into an area swarming with enemy forces in an effort to retrieve a pilot and an intelligence officer whose helicopter had been shot down.
“We located the helicopter but the two guys were not there,” he said. “After the mission, I learned from a friend that we weren’t expected to make it back because they had already prepared letters to send home to our parents informing them of our deaths … but we surprised them!”
Several months into his assignment, Siedenburg began to suffer from multiple and persistent boils that developed from infected mosquito bites. This medical complication resulted in his reassignment to the brigade’s ammunition depot, eventually becoming the non-commissioned officer in charge.
“While I was in Vietnam, I extended to stay in country for one month and seven days because that would give me less than 180 days left on my commitment when I returned to the states,” he said. “If you had less than 180 days when you got back to the U.S., they gave you an early discharge.”
Leaving the U.S. Army in December 1971, he established his own construction company, which he operated for several years. In 1981, he married Helen and the couple raised four daughters. In later years, he was hired by the Missouri Department of Conversation and retired with 31 years of service. In recent years, Siedenburg has remained committed to his faith and has served in many capacities with Immanuel Lutheran Church at Honey Creek. He acknowledges that although many of his fellow veterans who returned from the war experienced issues related to post-traumatic stress, he believes his faith has granted him peace in spite of the trauma he witnessed.
“I lost a close friend, Keith Haney, over in Vietnam,” he bluntly remarked. “There were a lot of good guys killed over there and you didn’t try to make any new friends because you didn’t know how long those people would be around. I believe that being a God-fearing person—knowing that He protected me during so many dangerous situations—factored into me coming home without too many problems. It was through God’s will that I made it back safely.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.