‘Capt. Larry D. Baldwin had already served one tour in Vietnam in 1965-66, earning a Bronze Star, when he was ordered to return in 1969. He was shaking when he came home with his deployment papers at Fort Hood, remembered his wife, Connie.”
Thanksgiving is a national day of gratitude. It’s also a time to remember the men and women who lost their lives in America’s wars. This week, Cal Poly history grad and high school teacher Bill Killian tells us the story of San Luis Obispo’s Larry Baldwin, who died in the Vietnam War.
“Larry was disappointed when a firing battery command he wanted went to someone else. Instead, he was assigned to headquarters’ battery command, a paper-pushing job with limited prospects. He decided to resign from the Army.
“The Army, however, had other ideas. Larry was informed he owed them one more year. They cut him orders to return to Vietnam for a second tour.
“His mother, Gladys Baldwin, so concerned at the prospect of her son returning to war, offered to pay for him to desert and go to Canada. Larry responded, absolutely not.
“Instead, he obeyed his orders and returned to combat. His wife and two young daughters waited for him in the home he recently purchased for them on Cuesta Drive. He would never make it back to join them.
“Larry had been serving in the Army since 1963. He participated in the Army’s ROTC program while studying social science at Cal Poly. With no military tradition in his family, he believed it would be better to enter service as an officer than be drafted.
“Larry lived in San Luis Obispo most of his life. Born in Kansas in 1938, his family moved to California when his father took a job with PG&E. He attended Old Mission School. He earned money carrying newspapers as a kid and delivered furniture in high school, according to his sister, Zella Murphy.
“Larry was a thoughtful teen. Once, Zella recalled, while on a dinner date at the old Mattie’s steakhouse in Pismo Beach during Mission Prep’s Junior-Senior Prom, he had his dinner paid for by a local businessman dining there. Alex Madonna was thoroughly impressed by Larry.
“Larry ended up graduating from Palma Catholic High School in Salinas in 1956 after his parents split up and he moved north with his dad. He returned to San Luis Obispo to enroll at Cal Poly in 1960 after a couple of years at University of San Francisco.
“That same year he married the former Constance Enninga, whom he had met while driving a bus for Cuesta College when its classes still met on the San Luis Obispo High School campus.
“Connie, a 17-year-old high school senior, thought he was cute. A friend of hers from choir class introduced them. Two years later, on April 20, 1960, Connie’s 19th birthday, they were married in the Old Mission Church.
“Larry continued to work part-time as a bus driver while at Cal Poly. Meanwhile, Connie found full-time work at the county welfare department as a secretary. He graduated in 1963, was commissioned a second lieutenant, and reported to gunnery school at Fort Sill, Okla.
“While learning field artillery, Larry now balanced soldiering with being a family man. By the time of his first tour in Vietnam in September 1965, Connie had given birth to two daughters, Cynthia and Rebecca.
“In January 1969, Larry was ordered to Vietnam for the second time. Two months into his tour, on March 22, 1969, he was killed when the OH-6 light observation helicopter in which he was an artillery observer was brought down by small arms fire. Larry was 30 years old. He is buried at Los Osos Valley Memorial Park.”
Larry D. Baldwin and nine other San Luis Obispo servicemen killed in Vietnam have their images and stories on display this month at the San Luis Obispo City-County Library on Palm Street.
The display is part of a planned permanent San Luis Obispo Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
To help support this project, contact Bill Killian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.