Stories of the Highway Patrol
Gene Klompus' Honor Flight
Flight Date: 05-10-2017
Honor Flight. "An Honor Flight is conducted by non-profit organizations dedicated to transporting as many United States military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war they fought in Washington, D.C. at no cost to the veterans". Wikipedia
Gene's Honor Flight Interview
(Vernon Hills, IL) Eugene Klompus says, “The best years of my life were the two years that I served in the army.” He’s talking about his time in the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol, a very elite group.
Eugene grew up in Baltimore, raised by his single mother. After graduating high school in February 1953, he couldn’t afford to go to college, so he watched jealously as most of his friends left for school. For a year, he worked a route selling furniture and clothing, door to door, on installment plans. But he decided he needed to get away -- “I thought to myself, I’m going to go into the army” – and he volunteered for the draft, for two-years of service.
Induction in September 1954 was at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, and then on to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training. But there was no room for another training group, so it was on to Camp Gordon in Augusta GA. Basic training evolved into an 8-week MP School. “When I volunteered, I indicated on the questionnaire that I wanted to get into MPCI – MP Criminal Investigation. But I was told I was too young, and they just assumed I wanted to be a military policeman.
“When I finished the second 8 weeks, I decided to marry my high school sweetheart. I went to see the chaplain, and he help me get permission and a 3 day pass to go to Baltimore to get married, which I did.”
In February 1955, Gene was flown to Munich, Germany. “I was put up in a transient hotel. This was 9 years after WWII, and I remember my first night there, the destruction overwhelmed me. There were bombed-out buildings everywhere – in fact my transient hotel was surrounded by bombed-out buildings.” Gene’s orders were for the 540th MP Railway Guard Battalion in Munich. “Our job was to ride trains throughout Germany, and check passes and ID. Some train runs had U.S. Mail cars. Every time the train stopped, we had to get out and make sure the locks on the mail cars were not tampered with, and to guard the cars. To be honest, I wanted more action. We would wear field clothing and parkas for the mail train duty, but for the return trip from Bremerhaven, we wore Class A uniforms, and dealt with a lot of incidents on those trains.”
Gene was able to get permission for his new wife to join him in Germany, and they lived on the economy (in non-military housing). This allowed them to get to know the German community and to learn German.
Apparently, Gene did an exemplary job as a railway guard. “After 3 months, I was called into the CO’s office, and I was told that I’d been selected for a very special outfit called the 62nd MP Highway Patrol. This was a really first class outfit, modeled after the NJ State Police. I was stationed at Augsburg, and we had ’54 Fords to patrol the German Autobahn. Everybody was jealous of our real police cars, actual pursuit vehicles. The other MP’s had only jeeps to patrol the towns, and we patrolled just the highways and the rural roads.”
An MP had to be selected to be in the 62nd MP-HP. The unit existed only for about 10 years, until being disbanded in 1958 after the end of the Occupation, and only ever had about 1,070 members. “We were a real spit and polish outfit, with a lot of esprit, and the guys took it seriously. In addition to patrolling, we gave tickets, and investigated accidents.” “We also patrolled the rural bars, out-of-the-way places that the GI’s were sure wouldn’t be checked by the MP’s. We wore .45’s as sidearms. I had never fired a gun in my life before the Army. The country boys took to shooting in stride, but the city boys didn’t. In training, I beat the heck out of my cheek with the recoil from my M-1 rifle. “
“Germany at the time still hadn’t achieved sovereignty, so we actually had some authority over the locals. But we never exercised it – we would always call the local police, ‘Landespolizei’ as a matter of practicality. The German people were still petrified of the uniform, and of the rubber clubs the polizei carried. The fear of the uniform carried over to us as well, and we worked closely with the polizei.”
“We had interesting duty. Drunks, for example, would literally tear up a rural bar. We’d have to break it up, and made a lot of arrests. We were enlisted men, but sometimes we’d get resistance from U.S. officers. I remember one day I came upon a crash on the highway, where a drunk officer had crashed into a tree. His one eyeball was hanging out, and he was bleeding. I called for an ambulance, but it never came, so I finally put him in the back of my patrol car. I drove him the 30 minutes to the hospital, but I caught hell for moving an injured person. The injured officer arranged to have me brought up on charges, but I was finally exonerated.”
“I also remember many occasions when we rescued stranded motorists. We would routinely help them with gasoline (we carried a 5 gallon can in our trunks), flat-tire fixing or directions. And, we didn't restrict these ‘assists’ to American soldiers, tourists or military dependents; we also helped many non-American civilians we came upon.” “I was involved in a lot of chases. There’s something about the police personality that makes it personal when somebody refuses to stop when you tell them to.”
Another interesting challenge for the 62nd was the “Red Lights and Siren” relay, where we helped with the transfer of critical donor transplant substances (organs, blood). “We would transport the material at full speed like a race, to hand it off to another car that would take off like hell.” They also were responsible for evacuation of dependents and DOD civilian employees in case of war. Practice was held every year, running a convoy to Strasbourg France, quite a distance.
After 14 months, Gene was shipped home and discharged at Ft Hamilton, NY. At home, he got a job with Lipton Tea Company, and then started night school. “I went to college on the GI Bill at the University of Baltimore for 10 years, 3 nights a week. I got my Bachelor’s degree in marketing, and then stayed on there and got my law degree. The GI bill paid completely for the undergraduate, and honestly, I couldn’t have afforded to go. So, I feel very indebted to the military and to the country.”
Eventually, he went to work for Allstate Insurance Company in Corporate Relations, and after a lot of relocations, he wound up at the home office in Northbrook, IL. Gene retired in January 1990 as Director, Corporate Relations after 24 years. But he’s kept very busy since. He and his wife Patricia parlayed a hobby of collecting cufflinks into his own website, www.justcufflinks.com, and even founded the National Cufflinks Association. He’s very proud of his Highway Patrol service, and is president of the 62nd Highway Patrol Association. He does say that “because most of our members are all about the same age and getting older, the association is faltering.” “I’m very patriotic, and frankly, emotional. I’m really looking forward to my flight day.”
Gene, we are thrilled that you’ll be flying with us, and look forward to honoring you. Thank you for your service!
Honor Flight Network - Click to go to the Home page, Information, Application, and more.
This interview was conducted by the Chicago “Honor Flight” Committee with Gene.
It was posted on their website: Honorflightchicago.org.