Michael Klingner was so excited about becoming a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.
Back in the late 1960s, Klingner was an intelligent young man with lots of potential, who might have had a career in politics.
Klingner also liked music and was part of a popular area rock band.
Fremonter Mike Semrad was part of that band, too, and years later still remembers his good friend.
Semrad was one of several people who formed Fremont’s first rock and roll band in 1962.
Originally called The Nomads, the band later changed its name to J. Harrison B. and the Bumbles when members were at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Klingner was hired to play drums in the band that performed throughout the Midwest – and in Colorado every summer – to help members raise money for their college tuition.
The band played songs by The Beatles, James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave.
Klingner was one of Semrad’s best friends.
“When you’re in a band, it’s just like family and we played together for four years,” Semrad said.
Klingner was a gregarious young man and a talented drummer and singer. He played football at McCook High School. He’d also been in the high school band before coming to UNL, where he was well-liked.
“He was probably one of the most popular students on campus,” Semrad said.
Klingner’s future looked bright.
“He was very politically active and I would have no doubt he – at some point – would have been a governor, a congressman or a senator. He was extremely intelligent,” Semrad said.
Several band members went through the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program at UNL and Klingner entered the Air Force in as a lieutenant, Semrad said.
A plaque made in Klingner’s honor said he completed Air Force pilot training and was assigned to the USAF 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
In his letters, Klingner would say he was hitting targets in Litter Land, Semrad said.
Litter Land actually was Laos, a country near Vietnam.
Semrad said his friend couldn’t say where he was because U.S. President Richard Nixon had said Americans weren’t there.
In 1970, Semrad was as 1st lieutenant at Fort Hood, Texas, when he learned his friend’s plane had been shot down and he was missing.
Klingner, who was just 24 years old, had no children but left behind a young widow, Jane.
Like many others who lost friends and loved ones, Semrad was devastated by the news.
In the 1990s, a search team found wreckage at the crash site.
Semrad also said Klingner’s blood chit was found in a military museum in Vietnam. A blood chit is a piece of cloth stating that if the person was found that he should be taken to friendly forces, and offering a reward for doing so.
“What it implies is that probably the Vietnamese buried his body, but retained this chit for the museum so our current presumption is that he was killed in action, but we have no confirmation to date,” Semrad said.
In 2000, a meeting room in the McCook Public Library was dedicated in Klingner’s honor. A large display includes photographs of Klingner when he was in elementary and high school, the letter from his football jacket, his wedding photo, sunglasses, a notebook with photos and a flag that had been presented to his family.
He was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain, Semrad said. A plaque in Klingner’s honor also said he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other medals.
Recently, Semrad produced a CD of Vietnam era songs. Proceeds from the sale of these CDs will go toward maintenance and improvement of the Fremont, Dodge County Vietnam Veterans Perpetual Living Memorial in Clemmons Park.
The CD, which sells for $10, is called “We Gotta Get Out of Here.”
The public is invited to CD release parties from 4-7 p.m. Sunday at Tin Lizzy Tavern, 1682 E. 23rd St., and 4-7 p.m. Dec. 3 at Doe’s Place, 148 N. Main St., both in Fremont.
Semrad, who misses his friend’s singing and laughter, said many of Klingner’s favorite songs are on the CD.
“When doing a project like this it brings back all the thoughts and memories I have of Mike and our good times in the band,” Semrad said.
What are some of those memories?
Semrad quickly answers: “Great music and lots of laughing.”