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home : community : features May 26, 2016

5/22/2014 4:19:00 PM
Not quite 20: A good guy, a good brother and a good person
Larry S. Jensen, Born: June 13, 1947, Died: April 15, 1967
Larry Jensen
Contributed photograph
Larry Jensen

Contributed photograph
Larry Jensen in Vietnam.
Larry Jensen in Vietnam.

Brian Jopek

Larry Jensen’s older sister, Patricia Klister of Milwaukee, remembers Larry as being a good guy.

“He was born up around Eagle River, in Phelps,” she said. “At that time, there was Larry, Butch, who was about 18 months older than Larry, and then me.”

Patricia said her mother had a fourth child, another boy, after the family moved to Milwaukee.

“Living up north, we lived in the country and next to my grandfather’s farm,” she said. “So, he and my dad were partners on the farm and my grandfather drove the school bus for the town of Washington.”

She said her family did work for other people on their farms as well when it came time to harvest. 

“We kids had to work pretty hard,” Patricia said. “I can remember my brothers in the old farm truck, and they were so little, one would be handling the pedals and the other would be steering the truck. We had our jobs to do and we had our chores.”

She said Larry was a low-key kid.

“Soft spoken,” Patricia said. “And I think what I remember the most and what I miss the most is his sense of humor, which he inherited from my dad.  My dad had quite a sense of humor and Larry was the same way.”

Like most boys who spent any amount of their lives in northern Wisconsin, Patricia said Larry liked to hunt and fish. 


Move to Milwaukee

She said she and Larry, her brother Butch and their parents moved to Milwaukee in 1957, her sophomore year in high school.

“It was just too hard to make a living up there [Eagle River],” Patricia said. “My dad figured most of the time, once kids graduated they’d move away from Eagle River anyway. He thought by moving to Milwaukee there would be a few more opportunities for me and my brothers.”

She said Larry and Butch were on the small side, small enough that their parents received a visit one day from a school nurse because of concerns they weren’t nourished enough.

“It was just they were built small, you know,” Patricia said. 

Then there was some confusion with Larry’s name. 

“Larry, especially once we moved to Milwaukee ... they always assumed his name was Lawrence,” she said. “He got so tired of correcting them he just said at one point, ‘OK, fine I’m Lawrence.’ Mom had to go to school and straighten it out.”

Not long after the move to Milwaukee, Patricia said Larry started playing the accordion and then in junior high, he started playing the saxophone. 

“The whole family was kind of musically inclined,” she said. “Larry was in the junior high band and everything.”

Larry also was in Cub Scouts.

“He was more of a follower,” Patricia said. “My brother Butch, he was a firecracker. He’d always get Larry to do stuff with him that Larry never would have done ordinarily.”

In high school, though, there was one instance Patricia recalled Larry was going to do things a little differently. 

“He decided to skip school,” she said. “Well, of course, he got caught. The first time he tried anything and he got caught.  My father got called into the principal’s office and the principal told my dad what Larry had done.”

Patricia said the principal told her father Larry was going to be given three demerits for skipping school. 

“My dad said, ‘Double it,’” she said. “And Larry looked at my dad and said, ‘Dad!’ but my dad told the principal to make it six demerits instead of three. My dad was quite strict, actually, but I always felt bad because no matter how hard Larry tried, he just could never get away with anything. He finally got to the point where he was pretty straight and narrow.”

Did he ever try it again?

“Nope,” Patricia laughed. “That was Larry’s life of crime right there.”

Butch, on the other hand, she said would be able to get away with things like taking the family car when he was barely old enough to drive legally and cruise around when their dad, who worked a second shift, was sleeping.

“Butch would do things like that and never get caught,” Patricia said. “Poor Larry, the one time he skips school, he gets caught.”

There was one other thing Patricia fondly recalls Larry did that she always thought was kind of funny. 

“He had beautiful, long eyelashes,” she said. “Any girl would have killed to have those.”

Larry wore glasses and one time at the dinner table, Patricia said she noticed something different about Larry’s look. 

“I looked and looked and finally I realized he got so sick of those eyelashes rubbing against the lenses of his glasses he cut his eyelashes off,” she said. “Of course, they grew back in, but he was tired of them rubbing those lenses.”

In high school, Larry took wood shop courses. 

“Actually, he made a beautiful wooden card table with inset,” Patricia said. “He made it for me as a wedding gift. I still have it, as a matter of fact. That would have been about 50 years ago. He was talented that way.”


Enlistment and Vietnam

Patricia said Larry really didn’t know what he was going to do after he graduated high school in June of 1965. 

“He went back up north and he worked at a cranberry processing plant for awhile,” she said. “Some of his buddies in Milwaukee decided they were going to go into the service so he decided he was going to enlist with them. The men in my family had been Navy men and my dad was hoping Larry would join the Navy, but he joined the Army. I guess that’s because that’s where his friends were going.”

Larry enlisted for an initial two-year hitch in the U.S. Army in February 1966. 

He was sent to Vietnam and assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, Ninth Infantry Division. 

Larry S. Jensen was killed in action on April 15, 1967, near Tan Tru in Vietnam’s Long An province. 

In a letter to Larry’s parents, Alpha Company’s commander, 2nd Lt. Francis Howard, said Larry’s platoon had been on combat patrol near Tan Tru when it was attacked by a large Viet Cong force. 

“During the battle that ensued,” Howard wrote, “Larry was hit by enemy small arms fire. It may be of some comfort to know that death came quickly.”

He wrote a memorial service was held for Larry at the unit’s field location the next day. 

Larry was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. 

Patricia, who herself has lost a daughter as the result of a motorcycle/car accident in 2007 that also killed Patricia’s son-in-law, knows herself what it’s like to lose a child.

Still, she said she doesn’t believe her mother and father were ever quite the same after Larry died. 

Larry’s brother, who had been born after the family moved to Milwaukee in 1957, was nine or 10 years younger than Larry when Larry was killed in Vietnam. 

“His name was Tom but my parents always called him Larry,” Patricia said. “I always felt sorry for Tom, you know, because he didn’t look like Larry ... but they just called him Larry all the time. Finally, he just screamed, ‘I’m Tom! I’m not Larry! I’m never going to be Larry!’ It was really hard on him in that way. It’s a horrible thing.”

Patrica has two other children, a son and a daughter. 

In 1996, her mother, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, passed away.

Her father passed away in 2011 and while helping make arrangements for her father’s funeral, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack.

Patricia said she was talking to a friend not too long ago who had gone through some similar loss.

“I said the pain of losing both of them [her daughter and son-in-law] is indescribable,” she said. “But I found that for a child as opposed to a spouse – and my husband and I had a wonderful marriage – it’s a different kind of pain to lose a child. For some reason, it’s just a different kind of pain.”

Along those lines, Patricia said she often wonders, as any parent who has ever experienced the loss of a child does, what Larry would have gone on to do and what he would be doing now. 

“He had a girlfriend when he went in the service but because he was going to be gone to Vietnam, they broke up,” she said. “She remained in touch with the family and went up north for his funeral.”

One of Larry’s friends who had been with him in Vietnam also stayed in touch with his parents and did so even after he was married. 

“Every year, he would write to them and that was really nice,” Patricia said. “It was comforting to them, you know, he was talking about Larry over there.”

Larry, she said, was a good guy, a good brother and a good person. 

“He was gentle and kind and soft spoken,” Patricia said. “Very loyal.”

That Vilas County farm Larry’s grandfather once owned with his dad and Larry and Butch and Patricia helped with as kids is these days owned by Patricia, who will pass it on to her son.

“To keep it in the family,” she said. 

Brian Jopek may be reached at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.

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