In the beginning, Larry Kralj’s family did not want him to join the military, especially not the Army. However, at 18 years old in 1969, as a compromise, he joined the Air Force instead. At that point, the war in Vietnam was in full swing. He spent six weeks in basic training and then a further six weeks in military police training. After waiting a while for admission, he attended three-month training to become a military dog handler. While humans only went through the training once, their canine counterparts went through the course several times with different handlers.
Kralj spent his first two years in the Air Force in the United States. In 1971, around Christmas time, he arrived for a year-long tour in Vietnam. The Air Force stationed him first at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and then later at Da Nang Air Base. Kralj said upon arrival in Vietnam, he felt a bit nervous because he wasn’t sure what he was getting into. Kralj’s duties as a military dog handler included patrolling the base’s perimeter and the area just outside of it. He recalled that he and the other dog handlers always patrolled at night because the dogs’ sense of smell could effectively find anyone trying to sneak onto the base.
After leaving the Air Force in 1974 and returning to the United States, Kralj found it difficult to readjust to civilian life. He attended Eastern Montana College, which is now Montana State University at Billings. Many of his peers there were also Veterans of the Vietnam War; however, he avoided discussing his service with strangers because of the stigma against Vietnam Veterans at the time. He later coached cross-country at Great Falls Central Catholic High School and worked for a company specializing in aircraft manufacturing.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Jewel Luckow
Editor: Claire Pei
Fact checker: L. Rebeca Ahring
Graphic artist: Jessica Hunsinger