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‘He knew he wasn’t coming home’

Gary Doring of Mankato in a jungle hat, at the DMZ, South Korea, July 1969. Contributed photo

By Carlienne A. Frisch

It has been a half century since U.S. troops battled the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army in South Vietnam, but the memory of fallen servicemen remains alive with family members. One such family is that of Larry Doring. Larry’s brother, Gary, and sister, Dawn (Doring) Melcher, recently shared some memories of the family’s fallen soldier.

It was an occasion of family pride when Larry left the family farm on the outskirts of Mankato and joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 1966.

“Our father couldn’t serve in World War II because there was no father in his family, so he was very proud when Larry went into the Army,” said Gary. “But it sort of killed his heart when Larry got killed in Vietnam in June 1967. The farm was always going to go to my brother, so when he got killed, my father lost interest in farming.”

Dawn was the only girl and the oldest of four children in the Doring family. From her present home in Vadnais Heights, Dawn recalled her father’s reaction to Larry’s death.

“My father was crushed and wasn’t able to farm,” she said. “He would just sit on the tractor and grieve. The neighbors offered to pitch in and harvested the crops. By the following spring, my father was better, but the neighbors still helped.”

Eventually, the neighbors bought the Dorings’ farmland.

Larry and his cousin Jerry, who lived across the road, joined the U.S. Army together. Gary explained, “I don’t know why joining was the thing to do for farm boys in Mankato. My cousin was shot nine times but returned alive, living until last year.”

The three Doring children, mid 1950s - (left to right) Larry, Gary and Dawn. Contributed photo

When Larry was home on leave before shipping out to Vietnam, it seemed that he and his family had a premonition of his death. Gary said, “When our mother sent Larry off to Vietnam, she said she knew she’d never see him again, and he said he knew he wasn’t coming home.” Dawn also felt the same way. She said, “I had a feeling when he was scheduled to leave. I knew he wasn’t coming back.” Gary didn’t share that premonition, but at the time of his brother’s death, Gary did feel something was wrong.

“I was in Washington, D.C. with my friend, Dave Andreas, for a wedding,” he said. “The next morning I knew something wasn’t right, so we drove home non-stop. I was home just one hour before two gentlemen in uniform came to the door. My mother was tough as nails because she expected it. Larry was a machine gunner in the 82nd Airborne, 503rd Division (Infantry), laying down the fire to the enemy in a firefight. A mortar hit him.”

Larry Doring by plane, holding a parachute, Vietnam, 1967. Contributed photo

Two weeks later, Larry’s body was delivered to his family. Because of the damage caused by the mortar blast, the casket was closed. Larry’s mother opened the casket and looked at her son in a final farewell, but she did not let other family members see him. Unlike the families of some soldiers killed in Vietnam, the Doring family can visit their fallen hero’s grave, for which they are grateful. Dawn said, “Our family felt that one of God’s greatest gifts was getting Larry’s body back.”

Gary’s reaction to his brother’s death was overwhelming. He said, “I just shut down. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I moved with a friend to Aspen, Colo., where we worked in the skiing community. I thought about going to Canada, but farm boys from Mankato didn’t do that.”

Although Dawn mourned her brother’s death, her time and attention were occupied with the responsibilities of being a young wife, a librarian, and a college student working on an advanced degree.

Larry Doring in dress uniform, Nov. 1966, before he left for Vietnam. Contributed photo

“I wasn’t aware of how unpopular the Vietnam War was until, at a party in St. Cloud a year later, I heard someone say, ‘They just go over there to commit suicide.’ ” she said.

Dawn shared her memories of growing up with Larry and her other brothers.

“Larry liked to hunt and fish and ride his bike,” she said. “He was a bookworm, reading about his interests. Larry was kind and caring--a good person. Other girls’ brothers could be mean, and we had our spats, but my brothers were not mean. Mostly we got along real well.” (The youngest brother, Greg, is eight years younger than Gary.)

“Larry was really quiet and thoughtful,” he recalled. “My parents were strict, and he always did the right thing. He tried to please mom and dad and never got into trouble. He loved sports and played basketball in school. There were eight in Larry’s graduating class at Immanuel Lutheran School in Mankato. Only one other went into the military, and he came back. In my class, there were six boys and two girls. Four of us went into the military, and we all came back. But one of them had a serious personality change.”

From the perspective of 50 years later, Gary’s thoughts are of what might have been. He said, “I’m 72, and Larry would be 73, I wish I had talked him into the two of us going to Canada, but Minnesota farm boys don’t do that.”

Gary Doring in dress uniform on the way to Korea, Dec. 1968, with his parents. Contributed photo

Right: The Doring family on their front steps when Larry was on leave in Nov 1965. This photo was taken the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Pictured (front L to R): Dawn, Gary (head down) and Greg in first row; (back L to R) Larry with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Doring. Contributed photo

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