This Friday, November 11, 2011 we observe Veterans Day. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day to recognize the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the Victory in World War I - known at that time as “The Great War.” The 11th of November was a legal holiday and observed as Armistice Day until June 1, 1954 when the word “Armistice” was replaced with “Veterans.” November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. By the way, Stephan Riod of Emporia, Kansas originated the idea of expanding Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in the Great War.
This year I would like to observe Veterans Day by telling you about three American soldiers whose lives exemplify the meaning of Veterans Day. Two of them were born in Kansas, the third was a native of Mesquite, Texas and stationed at Fort Riley. Each is a genuine hero and sadly, in our age of cheap celebrity, you are probably unaware of what they did and how much we all owe them. The three soldiers are: Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz, Senator Merrill Werts, and First Lieutenant Dustin Vincent. The accomplishments of each of them would fill a book, but today we will look at them as veterans. Soldiers who took up arms to defend our Constitution.
In May 1943, then Captain Dick Seitz took command of the 2nd Battalion of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment. At 24, his selection for command made him one the youngest infantry battalion commanders during World War II. During the Battle of the Bulge, now Lieutenant Colonel Seitz headed up “Task Force Seitz,” made up of his battalion, a tank company with some half tracks from the 7th Armored Division, a detachment of engineers, and some self-propelled anti-tank guns. “In twin attacks on two days, one after dark and the other in late evening, Seitz sent the Germans reeling back to the village of Hunnange, which was the gateway to St. Vith. In both attacks, paratroopers had to cross long stretches of open ground. With all guns blazing and with a massive artillery support fire, they locked up the crossroads village and waited in broad daylight for the huge armored assault that came behind them headed for the next stop, St. Vith. The battered battalion, which lost more than 400 of the original 600 who entered Belgium only four weeks earlier, won acclaim for its grueling feat in the freezing evenings of a Belgian January” (Gerald Astor, "Battling Buzzards: The Odyssey of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team 1943-1945").
Like Lieutenant General Seitz, Senator Merrill H. Werts attended Kansas State University and like the General his college career was interrupted by his service with the United States Army. Senator Werts and his cousin, the only two boys in the family to carry on the family name, went into the military during World War II. "My cousin was killed early in the war," Werts said. The two had grown up together, worked the farm together and became fraternity brothers in college. But on Werts' 21st birthday, his cousin was killed. Despite this Senator Werts went off to Europe to fight, proud to represent his family. He served from June 1943 to March 1946. He earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant from the Infantry Officer Candidate School and was assigned to Company I, 271st Infantry, 69th Infantry Division. At 0600 hours, 27 February 1945, the 271st Infantry entered combat, attacking the Siegfried Line. On 28 March the 271st crossed the Rhine and continued east until 26 April when elements of the 69th Division linked up with the Red Army at the River Elbe. In 65 days of continuous combat, Senator Werts and the soldiers of the 69th Division went from green replacements to seasoned veterans who crushed the Third Reich. Fighting across Germany, Senator Werts was wounded, losing his leg.
On November 4, 2011, First Lieutenant Dustin Vincent, a native of Mesquite, Texas gave his last full measure of devotion to our country. He was on his first tour of duty in Iraq and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas. He was killed during an enemy attack on his convoy. The 25-year-old soldier always wanted a military career. It was his childhood dream. Dustin Vincent was also a husband and father. He leaves behind his wife, Samantha. They married two days before he was deployed. He also legally adopted her daughter, Nacomas. Before he deployed he gave his military Bible to his mother. The day after his mother, Marty Vincent, learned of her son's death, she decided to pick up his Bible. She had not touched it since his deployment. A purple ribbon marked a page near the end of the volume in the book of Ephesians.'"That he might comfort your heart,'" read his mother from the sixth chapter, 22nd verse. "It's exactly what it did." The passage gave her comfort and so much more — a special message.
Today, Americans serving in our Armed Forces are supported by the majority of their fellow citizens. This was not always the case, and even today there are some who feel that our warriors should be treated as if they are bureaucrats working for the Department of Education. I invite them to imagine what it was like to attack through two feet of snow in the Ardennes, to lose one’s leg in combat, or to give one’s life at 25, leaving behind a loving family and unrealized potential. These are America’s veterans. They fought for us yesterday, they are fighting today, and they will fight our battles tomorrow. We owe them our freedom and they deserve our total support and respect. We should honor them every day - not just on Veterans Day.
Mike Kryschtal, Colonel (Retired), United States Army, has a Bachelor's Degree from John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio and a Master's Degree in International Relations from Boston University. He served in the United States Army from 1972 to 1999. He was a platoon leader in the 25th Infantry Division, company commander in the 82d Airborne Division, battalion commander in the 1st Infantry Division, and brigade commander in the 2nd Infantry Division. He served in the 1st Infantry Division in Desert Storm. Since retirement, Mike has been an adjunct professor of history, political science, and leadership.
He lives in Manhattan, Kansas with his wife, Karen and their Siberian Huskies.
Oh yeah. Check that last line of his bio. Yep. That's our dad's column for this week. We think it's one of his very best! (You can see the paper in its entirety here, if you'd like; scroll down to the top of page 4A for our dad's column, Letters To Tom!)
Our dad just happens to be our favorite veteran of all time! We've showed you this picture before, but it's one of our faves -- Dad and great-brother Booter upon Dad's return from Desert Storm!
|Thank you, Dad!!!|
Dave and I, and all of us here at Ao4 HQs, understand that freedom is not free. We thank our veterans for their selfless service, dedication to duty, and their courage. It is because of these men and women that we enjoy the great freedoms we have today. They are the strength of America.
Veterans - past and present - we thank God for you and pray for His blessing on each and every one of you.
Respectful play bows,