Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Clifford F.D. Kangas, 1947-1967
 


Clifford F.D. Kangas, 1947-1967

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 01, 2008

One afternoon I now know to have been September 1, 1967, my mother gave me a loaf of bread she had baked that morning and asked me to take it through the block to the Kangas home. Brother and Sister Kangas might not be there, she said, but I was to wait until they did come home.

She was right; there was no car in the carport and no answer to the doorbell. So I sat on the retaining wall and kicked my heels for a little while, until a car drove in and Brother and Sister Kangas got out. Sister Kangas was carrying a folded flag. I gave her my bread with a message from my mother, and she thanked me, and I skipped on home.

Sometime later, I realized that Brother and Sister Kangas had been returning from the funeral of their son, Clifford F.D. Kangas, that the flag had been the one draped over his casket, and that my mother had sent the bread because that’s what neighbors did.

I don’t know that I ever met “Dee” Kangas, as his father called him. I probably did, but he was 12 years older than me and probably didn’t register on my child’s radar. Certainly his picture was unfamiliar when I looked up his obituary last week. But although I did not know him, Clifford Kangas has always been on the fringes of my memory, my personal connection to the Vietnam War, “my” soldier, because of the memory of his mother, her flag, and my mother’s bread. When a friend visited the Wall in Washington, D.C., I asked him to bring me a rubbing of Clifford’s name.

Clifford was born March 30, 1947, and blessed by his father a month later. He was baptized on schedule and ordained to the various offices in the Aaronic Priesthood, either by his father or by Bishop Nance, the earliest bishop I can remember (he was the father of my friend Michelle). Beyond that, all I know of Clifford occurred during the last few months of his life, and his death. I do not know whether he played sports, or was in the band, or liked to read, or was a Cub Scout. I’m hoping to find a high school yearbook that will tell me something about him, but mostly I’m hoping that some family member will eventually stumble across this page and leave a personal comment.

I know that in 1967, young men were being drafted for wartime service, and that there was a limit to how many young men could be called as missionaries from each ward. In 1967, our ward, the Crescent 2nd in Mt. Jordan Stake, had four missionaries and 18 servicemen on active duty. Would Clifford have been a missionary had his number not come up in the draft lottery?

His father wrote an article for the March 1967 issue of The Creskopion, the ward newspaper edited by my mother:

Clifford (Dee) Kangas, son of Cliff and Velma Kangas, has arrived in Bien Hoa, Viet Nam, March 6. He had his training first at Ft. Lewis, Wash. then transferred for Advanced Individual Training (A.I.T.) to Ft. Jackson, Columbia, So. Car. He had a Christmas furlough and returned for his finals on Jan. 1, 1967. His unit left Feb. 5 for their furloughs en route to Viet Nam. Dee was held back two weeks to testify as a witness at a court martial action. His last furlough ended March 1, and he then flew to Oakland, then to Travis Air Force Base, then to Bien Hoa. Some of you friends might have missed seeing him.

Dee is in a new unit, just organized last December. It is a reconnaissance foot soldier searching patrol, probably in the Central Highlands or the Cambodian border.

He met one returned missionary in his unit, who was transferred elsewhere, an elder Ballard. Now he would enjoy letters from his ward. He is terribly lonely and homesick. His address is listed with the other servicemen in this issue of the paper. S.A.M. (Special Airmail) on the envelope facilitates immediate priority.

Although his father doesn’t mention it, Clifford received his patriarchal blessing and was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood in March. That tells me he was going as well prepared as it was possible for a young man to be.

On August 22, Clifford was wounded by small arms fire, and was flown by helicopter to the hospital ship USS Sanctuary, where he died of his wounds. A week later, he was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. His parents drove home, to be greeted by a little girl who had no idea where they had been or what they were feeling.

Nobody should be forgotten – and I know that through the grace of Christ no one will be forgotten. Everybody – every Latter-day Saint – has a story. I wish I knew more of the story of Clifford F.D. Kangas.



23 Comments »

  1. This brings back some difficult memories.

    I remember reading our weekly nespaper as a boy and seeing the picture of a young man from my ward who had died in Southeast Asia. Only a year before, he had been a priest who blessed the sacrament and handed the trays of sacred emblems to me, a deacon.

    I think it would have been really hard at that time to have been a bishop and to have borne the responsibility to decide who is called on a mission and who is left exposed to the draft. In many cases it was a life or death decision. There must have been bishops whose own sons were approaching that age, and who had to decide. I just cannot imagine how agonizing it must have been.

    Comment by Mark IV — July 1, 2008 @ 8:50 am

  2. You are doing the Lord’s work, Ardis. This is a poignant and memorable piece.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 1, 2008 @ 9:50 am

  3. Ardis,

    You reminded me of those difficult times. I know two names on that wall that touched my life, Greg W and Val R. Many others I knew returned, some with serious injuries, others with buried emotions that they never really overcame. At the time, I felt fortunate to have a high draft lottery number. There have been many times since that I have felt some guilt about that, as well.

    Thanks, Ardis. The beauty of what you are doing is to give humanity and substance to what otherwise appear to most of us to be unremarkable lives, when in fact there are no unremarkable lives.

    Comment by kevinf — July 1, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  4. “The beauty of what you are doing is to give humanity and substance to what otherwise appear to most of us to be unremarkable lives, when in fact there are no unremarkable lives.”

    Kevin said it better than I could have.

    Comment by Ray — July 1, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

  5. Thanks for remembering and reminding.

    Comment by Edje — July 1, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  6. Let me echo J. Stapley’s (#2) sentiments. When I am looking for peace, edification, and enlightenment, I leave the other sites of the bloggernacle and come here.

    Comment by Dane — July 1, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  7. I was drafted, but when I had the physical, they noticed that pieces of two of my fingers were missing—the result of a farm accident. I never thought of myself as handicapped until this physical. My grandmother always thought that it saved my life. There were five boys my age in our little Mormon town. Three of us went on missions, but after their missions ended the other two were drafted and went to Vietnam. So serving a mission did not mean that you did not go to Vietnam. One of the other boys served in the army, but I don’t think went to Vietnam. The last one had health problems and did neither—serve in the army or serve a mission. I remember thinking that our ward was limited in how many missionaries could be sent out, and I was not counted since I had failed the physical. Of course the war was long enough that the Church policies and the Federal government policies changed and developed over time.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — July 1, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  8. Wow, Ardis, I loved this. Thank you.

    Comment by Emily M. — July 1, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

  9. Thank you all for some of the sweetest, most memorable comments ever left on any post. You zero in on why history has meaning for me — the value of the individual lives that make up our story, and the response of sharing pieces of your own.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 1, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

  10. Thanks for this Ardis. My own father was an officer in the USAF and served in Vietnam in 1968. He missed the birth of one of my older brothers, but for whatever reason, was permitted to make it back. He never forgot the ones, like Brother Kangas, who weren’t so fortunate.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 3, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

  11. Thank you for this, Ardis. Great post.

    Comment by Jared T. — July 3, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  12. Back home, finally, after a long trip out west. Just a few comments.

    Thanks for this post, Ardis. It personalizes the tragedy that was Vietnam–bringing to focus on one man the unutterably sad feelings I get when I go to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.

    Someone commented in church yesterday on the efforts his stake president had made to “work” the missionary quota for the young men in his stake. I had nearly forgotten that hard part of the Vietnam years. By the time I received my mission call in 1973, it was just a bad memory.

    A minor correction: the Vietnam era draft lottery wasn’t held until December 1, 1969, for young men born between 1/1/1944 and 12/31/1950. Subsequent lotteries were held in 1970 through 1972. So, Clifford Kangas would not have been drafted because of a low lottery number. More information can be found at the Selective Service website.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 7, 2008 @ 7:48 am

  13. I wrote a comment, and thought that I had successfully posted it, but I come back to discover it’s disappeared.

    Great post, Ardis,

    One minor correction–Bro. Kangas would not have been drafted under a lottery. The first Vietnam era draft lottery was held on December 1, 1969, for call-ups in 1970. It covered men born between January 1, 1946, and December 31, 1950.

    Prior to that time, the draft boards apparently used the “oldest available man” rule.

    There’s more information about the lottery here.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 7, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

  14. Mark B., I found your original comment in the spam filter and posted it because I liked it, despite a little duplication (I’m still teaching the new spam filter what to do when links are included).

    Thanks for the correction about the draft lottery. I remember those lists of dates being printed in the newspapers, but not which year they started. I also remember Walter Cronkite announcing every evening the number of men killed that day — it always seemed huge, and seemed to go on forever, but my memory of that can’t be trusted entirely either. I was too young.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 7, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

  15. Nice to know I’ve been rescued from spam hell, Ardis!

    I remember the first draft lottery–there was a story in Time magazine about some young men watching it live in the dorm where they lived. When September 14 was picked first, one guy stood up, picked up his chair, and smashed the TV. Since my birthday was number 11 in that first lottery, I was glad that I wasn’t born before 12/31/1950.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 8, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  16. I should have gone to the Time archive and found this article before I posted that last comment.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 8, 2008 @ 10:37 am

  17. Yikes, you have an accurate memory!

    Thanks. This entire discussion is helping me pull together the different strands of national, LDS, and personal history in quite a different way than I experience history of much earlier days.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 8, 2008 @ 10:50 am

  18. Only for stuff that happened a long time ago!

    Comment by Mark B. — July 8, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  19. Besides, throwing a chair through the television is something I keep thinking about regularly.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 8, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

  20. Hi Ardis—I was most interested in your article about Dee. I am the “Elder” Ballard you mention in your article. Dee and I became good friends during the brief time we were together in Vietnam. We talked a lot about family, the Church, and our life experiences. I’ll never forget the day I learned he was killed. Death was a way of life over there, but I was genuinely shocked when I found out he had died. My wife and I recently returned from a 2-yr. CES mission, and are now living in Cedar Hills, Utah. (After living 32 years in Washington state!).

    What a wonderful article you wrote about Dee. I would love to meet you!

    Best wishes,

    Russ Ballard

    Comment by Russ Ballard — May 25, 2009 @ 11:59 pm

  21. Check your email box, Russ. I am SO delighted to hear from you!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2009 @ 6:35 am

  22. Hello Ardis, I hope this reaches you 2 yrs. after your last post. I am a first cousin of Dee Kangas from Napa Calif. I only met him once when he was a small boy. His father used to come and visit my family in Oakland Ca. He sent me several letters over the years detailing family history. One letter contained a very poignant poem about his dead son. I was just reviewing it and decided to try to learn more about Dee. There are several websites regarding him and yours was one of them. Thank you for a little history about my family. Arlene Kangas Mitchell

    Comment by Arlene Kangas Mitchell — August 22, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

  23. So glad to hear from you, Arlene. I’ve hoped to hear something from Dee’s family sooner or later, and will write to you directly.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 22, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

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