NEW LONDON, Wis. (WFRV) – When Manitowoc native Jerry Clusen volunteered for the Navy Reserve in 1971, he was just 17 years old.
“You know, I grew up on a farm and watching the news, reading the local newspaper, I was always interested in that,” said Clusen. “Then I got interested in listening and hearing people from other countries, then I got the bug and wanted to communicate,” he said.
It was a fascination with radios that led Clusen to a career with the Navy Reserve spanning almost 43 years, something he never could have imagined.
“I started probably when I was 12 or 13 (years old) doing shortwave radio, then I got my ham radio license and I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go into the Navy and try to get into one of their electronics or communications fields,’ and I did,” Clusen recalled.
Clusen began as a junior enlistee electronics tech aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma City CLG-5, homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.
“You know, you join the Navy and see the world. So, here I am living in Japan, well we didn’t spend as much time in Japan because of what happened in ’72 in Vietnam,” said Clusen.
What Clusen is referring to is a day that remains in his mind forever; The Battle of Dong Hoi on April 19th, 1972.
“The one close call that I had, and again I was 19, indestructible right? You don’t care; Dong Hoi, on April 19th,” said Clusen. “The only reason I’m here with you today, is because a North Vietnamese MiG missed my ship. It did drop a 500 pound bomb, but it landed in the back of the ship,” he said.
Clusen earned his Combat Action Ribbon while in Vietnam, but it was after his time there that his career really took off.
Clusen rose in the ranks a whopping 14 different times throughout his career in the Navy Reserve, eventually reaching ‘Flag Rank’ as a Rear Admiral, where he specialized in cryptology, the study of codes.
“You know, when they tell you you should have a plan and goals for your whole life, I kind of just did what I enjoyed doing and progressed as I went,” said Clusen. “I never thought about becoming an officer or progressing through the ranks,” he said.
He retired in 2013, after four decades. But his work isn’t quite done; He works with other Veterans educating the younger generations about the War in Vietnam, and promoting education in the STEM fields.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but you know, I kind of immersed myself in volunteer work after that, because it allows us to share personal experiences, find out more about each other, and having that outlet, having other veterans that you can relate to,” Clusen said.
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