(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Gazette)
The Cap. Michael Lee Klingner memorial plaque was installed and dedicated in a McCook High School hallway on Friday, during the 50th reunion of his class of 1963.
Along with about 20 other classmates, the six high school friends who spearheaded the idea and installation of the plaque were on hand to memorialize their buddy, whose friendship they still miss.
(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Gazette) [Order this photo]
But at some point during those weekends, the talk would invariably turn to their friend, Mike Klingner, who was killed while an Air Force pilot in Vietnam.
"He was one of those guys who never had an enemy," said Marty Russell, who was friends with Klingner since that age of three. Later, the boys ended up living next door to each other, with Russell taking over Mike's newspaper route as a McCook Daily Gazette delivery boy.
During their recollections of Mike, conversations kept circling back to the fact there was no cemetery plot or head stone the friends could visit. As Klingner's remains were never recovered, there wasn't a grave site or plot where the friends could go.
"We thought, this is just wrong, there is no place to pay our respects. It just didn't feel right," Russell recalled.
Last year when the friends met again in California, they decided to do something about that. Together, they designed a bronze plaque in Klingner's honor and after thinking of other locations, decided on McCook High School.
The plaque, with a picture of Mike in his aircraft, was made in a foundry in New Jersey and MHS principal, Jerry Smith, wholeheartedly endorsed the project, Russell said.
At the unveiling, one of the six friends, Louis Burgher, read the words inscribed on the plaque, in a voice choked with emotion.
These words were: "Upon graduation from the University of Nebraska, Mike completed Air Force pilot training and was assigned to the USAF 308th tactical fighter squadron in Vietnam. On April 6, 1970, Captain Klingner was the pilot of an F-100D aircraft that was on a strike mission in Vietnam. That day, his aircraft was hit by hostile ground fire after making a pass over his desiginated target. To date, his remains have not been recovered. Captain Klingner was posthumously awarded the Distinquished Flying Cross Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with Five Oak Leaf Clusters as well as the National Defense Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm.
"To his MHS classmates he is remembered as a special guy: heroic, joyful and a born leader who was loved by us all. We share wonderful memories of him and will never forget his smile and charismatic personality. As classmates and friends, we salute his bravery and his ultimate sacrifice for his country."