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BR A N D AV E. ST U DIOS CON T EN T

Two months in Vietnam; painful
memories that last a lifetime
BY LORI ROSE, BRAND AVE. STUDIOS CONTRIBUTING WRITER

m ilitary veterans that he opened up to
hiis daughter about the details of his
ser
ervice.
“II had no idea just how intense the
niightmares are that he’s been hiding
to
p
o protect
my siblings and me,” said
hiis daughter, Laurie Hollenberg, who
acccompanied her dad on the trip to
W
Washington,
D.C. “He fought to give
uss a life
l full of happy memories while
bu
urying the scary ones.”

TOM KREYLING WITH PHOTO OF RICK MUSSER,
WHOM HE CREDITS WITH SAVING HIS LIFE.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY TOM KREYLING

T

he scars have faded for a Vietnam
veteran but the memories haven’t.

Two months after arriving in Vietnam
as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps,
Spc. Tom Kreyling was heading stateside
with severe burns that covered much of
his body. He was injured while working
on crucial underground communication
cables linking Army base camps in South
Vietnam.

For years, the scars and the residual
pain from second-degree burns on his
hands, arms, chest and face reminded
him of his service in Vietnam, but he
rarely talked about the accident that
changed his life forever.
It wasn’t until he was invited on
a recent Honor Flight with other

RE
ELIVING A PAINFUL MEMORY
Fo
or Kreyling, 70, the Honor Flight
wa
as an experience he’ll remember
fo
orever. “Anybody that can go, should
go
o,” he said. “It’s going to bring back
memories, but you also are received so
wa
armly that it makes you feel good. It’s
t
a thank-you
that you will never forget.”
The experience also helped offset some
of the painful memories from Vietnam.
“There was someone in the ward across
from me in a lot of pain. I found out
later he had 98 percent of his body
burned and he died that night. That
man’s never left my mind.”
GREETINGS FROM YOUR DRAFT BOARD
Kreyling was 19 years old, engaged to
be married, and working as a cable
splicer for Southwestern Bell in St.
Louis when he received his draft notice
in 1967. He was surprised because he
had already signed up to join the Air
National Guard.
Still, he figured that the Army could use
technicians with his training to help build
and maintain its huge communications
networks at home and abroad. So when
he reported to the enlistment office

STORIES OF HONOR ® IS PRESENTED BY:

he told the person in charge he was a
trained cable splicer.

with aluminum coverings to prevent
water damage.

“He had no idea what a cable splicer was
so he put down that I was a laborer,”
Kreyling said. “I didn’t realize the impact
of that until later.”

But they didn’t have the correct
equipment for the job and on April
25, 1969, two months to the day since
he had arrived in Vietnam, flames
suddenly flared up.

The impact was that after completing
boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood,
Kreyling was sent to Fort Polk for
infantry training. Again, Kreyling was
surprised; so was his father, who had
served in the Signal Corps in World
War II.
“My dad came unglued,” Kreyling
remembered. “He wrote letters to
everybody from the president of the
United States all the way to Leonor K.
Sullivan about how in the world could
they do that after the phone company
had spent three months training me.”
The message must have gotten through
to someone because midway through
advanced infantry training, Kreyling
was transferred to Fort Bragg, N.C.
as a lineman. “I didn’t know the first
thing about being a lineman,” he said.
By the end of 1968, orders came for
Vietnam and Kreyling arrived at
Long Binh, a logistics and command
center for the Army. His job was soon
changed to cable splicer and he set
to work connecting cables to a new
telephone central office that was under
construction.
About a month later, Kreyling was
sent to a second military base to repair
defective underground cable splices.
Local Vietnamese workers dug up the
cables, and Kreyling and his partner
re-spliced the wires and sealed them

HE SAVED MY LIFE
“The next thing I knew I had fire
from the waist up,” Kreyling said.
“My buddy Rick grabbed me, threw
me down and rolled me in the dirt. He
saved my life.”

Kreyling was airlifted to Long Binh
and then to a military hospital in Japan
for several weeks before being flown
home aboard a medical transport. He
finished out his service at Fort Lewis in
Washington, then returned to St. Louis
and his old job with the telephone
company, where he stayed for 33 years.
Through all those years, his burned
hands continued to bother him, an
ever-present reminder of Vietnam, he
said.

A few years ago he visited the Traveling
Vietnam Wall when it was displayed
near his home in Arnold. He found
the name of a soldier who died April
25, 1969, and he wonders if he was the
young man with the terrible burns, the
man Kreyling had never forgotten.

“It ran chills through all of us,” he said.
Stories are told from the nominee’s point of view.
This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios.
The news and editorial departments of the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or
display. For more information about Brand Ave.
Studios, contact tgriffin@stltoday.com.

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