Kerr endures gunfire, Agent Orange

T-R PHOTO BY CHUCK FRIEND Marshalltown veteran Larry Kerr stands in front of his Marshalltown home. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam during the 1960s and experienced a lot of gunfire and Agent Orange.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.

Many U.S. Marines experienced one tour of duty in Vietnam during the 1960s, but for Larry Kerr of Marshalltown it was two. The first was because his unit was sent, the second was because he was tired of having little to do and being harassed while at Camp Pendleton.

“I joined the corps before graduation in February of 1965 and was sworn into active duty on June 7,” Kerr said. “After spending 11 weeks of boot camp in San Diego, I spent four weeks in the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton.”

After a short leave home, Kerr said his unit reported to a dock in San Diego, boarded a ship and 18 days later pulled into Pearl Harbor — for 12 hours. Them it was off to Okinawa.

“There I was put in the wrong MOS division. It was supposed to be infantry and I got placed in bulk fuel platoon for about three months, until one for the higher ups came and said that I was supposed to be in infantry,” Kerr said. “That is what I had been trying to tell them since the moment I arrived.”

He was transferred to the 155 Self-Propelled Artillery Battery at Camp Hansen in late November and in February of 1966 his unit loaded equipment on LSTs and headed for his first tour in Vietnam.

“I was with the 4th battalion of the 11th Marines and we spent a lot of time on Hill 69 — east of Chulai,” Kerr said. “We experienced a lot of fire missions — search and destroy — and fired a lot of 100 pound projectiles.” He added that in his two tours in Vietnam he probably was involved in firing between 3,000 and 5,000 live rounds.

After another short time in the states, Kerr said he got tired of doing very little at Camp Pendleton and decided to sign up for a second tour in Vietnam.

“This time I was with Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion of the 12th Marines,” Kerr said. “We flew into DaNang and spent most of our time just south of the DMZ. We were a towed battery with the 105th.”

Kerr said he was wounded twice while there. The first time he just suffered shrapnel in his arm — the second time a lot worse.

“My helmet saved my life,” Kerr recalled. “I and some others were in our foxhole but I had stuck my head up to see where the 88 millimeter mortars were landing. One landed about an arm’s length from me. It welded my helmet and liner together and a piece of shrapnel went into my eye.”

He was airlifted to a Navy Medical Unit and then was taken to the USS Sanctuary where he spent about 5-6 days receiving treatment. However one of his buddies next to him was killed — nearly in Kerr’s arms.

Coming back from Vietnam in 1968, Kerr was sent to Camp Pendleton where he was a brig guard until January 1969. Then he was sent to an artillery school as an instructor for new Marines. “This was the best job I ever had while in the corps,” Kerr said.

Kerr suffers from Type 2 diabetes and other problems after being sprayed with Agent Orange. He said he never knew what they were spraying at the time, but recently saw a photo of the same helicopter that he can remember spraying them while there.

He said he appreciates the disability help he gets from the Veterans Affairs for treatment he has received for the shrapnel wounds, his diabetes and hearing loss.