WWII medals finally awarded

Great Falls Tribune

by David Murray

In the spring of 1944, on a remote battlefield in the South Pacific, Staff Sgt. John Klobofski gave his life for his country. This past Tuesday, almost 70 years after John Klobofski died, his family was presented with seven military decorations, including a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Presidential Unit Citation for his service during the Battle for New Guinea.

“These decorations are small tokens, but they are powerful symbols of true heroism, sacrifice and dedication to service,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told the Klobofski family assembled at the Hill County Courthouse. “These medals are presented on behalf of a grateful nation.”

Until only recently, the Klobofski family knew very little of John Klobofski’s heroism, or that he had been decorated for his service during WWII. John’s brother, Harry Klobofski, who was also a WWII veteran, was sent back from the war to the family home in Cleveland, south of Chinook, after the news of his brother’s death. Like many servicemen returning from battle, Harry Klobofski preferred not to talk about the war, wishing instead to put the past behind him and move on with his life.

As the decades passed, the memory of John Klobofski’s sacrifice began to fade.

“None of us really knew much about it,” said Mary Lou Klobofski, who is married to Harry Klobofski’s son Steve. “John had died long before my father-in-law and mother-in-law were even married, and John’s mother passed away many years ago, so none of us really knew anything about him.”

Then, by pure coincidence, a neighbor of the Klobofskis came across John’s name in a book about the 163rd Infantry Regiment, the Montana unit to which John Klobofski had been assigned.

“At first light the Japanese, persistent and aggressive, charged again,” read John Klobofski’s great-nephew David Klobofski from the book “From Poplar to Papua.” “The side-by-side placement of two American machine guns drew heavy fire. Sergeant John Klobofski of Cleveland, Montana, one of the two gunners, was hit in the back and the bullet left through his stomach. A medic dragged Klobofski off the line and administered his best care, but was unable to save him.”

This short citation of their ancestor’s death inspired David and his brother Chris to dig deeper into the story of their great-uncle. Chris Klobofski located John Klobofski’s name on the American Battle Monuments Commission’s website, and in the process discovered his great-uncle was buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. Chris also learned that John Klobofski had been awarded a Purple Heart, a fact that none of his family had previously been aware of.

It was at that point that Chris and David Klobofski’s uncle, John, became involved. John Klobofski began searching through some of his father Harry’s belongings to see if he could find any trace of the Purple Heart.

“I was going through a box of letters and miscellaneous things my dad had, and I came across the papers that stated my uncle had received the Purple Heart,” John Klobofski said. “But the medal wasn’t with them. Nobody had seen that medal. We just had no knowledge if it was ever given to my grandmother.”

John contacted Tester’s office to see if the senator, who is a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, would help to replace the long lost Purple Heart.

Since 2009, Tester has made a special effort to return lost or missing military decorations. According to Tester’s acting press secretary, Dan Malessa, in 2012 alone, Tester’s office has been able to locate 129 missing service awards for veterans all across Montana.

Just this past Monday, Tester’s office contacted John Klobofski to let the family know their long-deceased ancestor had received not only a Purple Heart, but a total of seven service decorations.

At Tuesday’s ceremony in Havre, Tester highlighted John Klobofski’s role in “Operation Persecution,” the simultaneous amphibious landings of American and Allied forces on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea on April 22, 1944.

“Within a number of days, (John Klobofski’s) unit had captured and secured two airfields, and supplies were being delivered to the island,” Tester said. “Because of how quickly they were able to seize these airfields, John’s unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

“But fighting continued in the region for several days and many men, including John, were killed. Staff Sergeant John Klobofski died on April 30, 1944.”

John Klobofski’s name and a record of his combat service will now be entered into the official Congressional Record, and will be recorded in American history forever.