Willard J. Klopf
|HOME OF RECORD:
Bay City, WI
|NEXT OF KIN:
Father, Mr. William Klopf
|DATE OF BIRTH:
5/27/1942 – 1945
|DATE OF DEATH:
Purple Heart with Gold Star
|LAST KNOWN RANK:
Willard Klopf was born in Wisconsin around the year 1921. He was raised by William and Mary Klopf on a farm in Maiden Rock, WI; like many of his generation, Willard left school early to work for his family. His experience came in handy when an uncle in Minnesota passed away – nineteen year old Willard traveled to Denmark Township to help his aunt and cousin with their farm work.
Klopf left the farm behind to enlist in the Marine Corps on May 27, 1942. After completing his boot training at MCRD San Diego, the young private was sent to Washington as a guard at the Naval Air Station in Seattle. He also served as one of the first Marine guards at the newly-commissioned Whidbey Island airfield. Private Klopf spent the winter in the Pacific Northwest, but in the spring of 1943 applied for a transfer to a warmer location. April found him serving with the Headquarters company of Camp Elliott in San Diego; the following month he and several dozen other men transferred to the 24th Marines at Camp Pendleton.
Training with the 24th – a combat infantry unit – was a far cry from standing guard over an airfield, but Willard Klopf seems to have taken to his new duties. He was promoted to Private First Class on July 17, and learned to use the powerful Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) with a rifle squad from Charlie Company. However, Klopf suffered severely from health issues as 1943 came to a close and the regiment prepared to ship out for combat. The battalion’s muster rolls indicated that from November 9 to 22, 1943, PFC Klopf was unfit for duty and sick at the regimental dispensary; he was released from sick bay but returned on December 17. This relapse was much more serious, and Klopf was sent to Camp Pendleton’s hospital for evaluation and treatment on December 28.
If being sick wasn’t bad enough, Klopf learned on January 11, 1944 that his company was boarding transport ships, bound for parts unknown. When they sailed on January 13, there was nothing Klopf could do but hope for the best. By the time he was released from the hospital, after a full month off his feet, Charlie Company was thousands of miles away, preparing to attack Kwajalein Atoll. Klopf was rounded up by his battalion’s administrative section, which had remained behind to close up camp at Pendleton, and instead of sailing off to combat, Klopf headed instead to Hawaii to assist in setting up the new base of operations for the 4th Marine Division – Camp Maui. He was reunited with Company C in late February, upon their return from the Marshall Islands.
During the spring of 1944, PFC Klopf continued training with Charlie Company as they put into practice the lessons learned in their first battle. When the time came to sail to combat again, Klopf was with them, and made the June 15, 1944 landing on Saipan. He fought for a week before a Japanese ambush caught his company unprepared, sending a large number of Charlie Company Marines to the rear with wounds. Klopf would again be laid up in a hospital for several weeks, thereby missing the battle of Tinian. When he rejoined his company that fall, few of the men with whom he had trained in California were left.
Willard Klopf, now a wounded combat veteran and recognizable face in the company, was promoted to corporal in the winter of 1944 and placed in command of a fire team of three other Marines. He led them into combat on Iwo Jima until wounded for a second time in March, 1945 – which would spell the end of his combat career. Klopf was evacuated from Iwo and flown back to Hawaii, then to Hunter’s Point, California, to recuperate. When the war ended, he was serving with a casual company in Great Lakes, Illinois; he received his second Purple Heart while there, and his discharge papers soon followed.
Klopf returned to Wisconsin after the war, but few details of his life are available between his discharge and his death in Milwaukee on June 13, 1971.