"We're just trying to keep all these men alive," John Kinzinger says.
by Jan Schlain
From the September, 2019 issue
A Belleville native, the retired Ford engineering supervisor was drafted and sent to Vietnam at age twenty in 1966. He returned safely just after turning twenty-one. His mom, he remembers, "was so elated to have her baby home."
Kinzinger has since devoted a good part of his life to preserving the memory of the seventy-six men from Washtenaw County who didn't come home--most recently in a new book, Sacrifices Not Forgotten.
He answers a call about it at the Stadium Blvd. post office, where he's sending out free copies. "I've mailed at least 500 of these," he says. "They're not for sale." He and his wife, Jane, are publishing it at their own expense--tucking an envelope in each copy that invites donations to an endowment to maintain the Washtenaw County Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The book grew out of the memorial. Building it was a founding goal of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 310, and in 1990 Kinzinger began collecting biographical information for it. As on the national Vietnam Memorial, the names of the dead are inscribed on angular blocks of black granite; three men listed as missing in action are named on nearby benches.
Ann Arbor didn't want it in Veterans Memorial Park, but Ypsilanti Township readily accepted it. One of Kinzinger's proudest moments was when General William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam, showed up for the unveiling.
The memorial lists only the men's town, branch of service, and date of death. The book tells their stories. Kinzinger and other volunteers collected them from family members, friends, men who served with them, classmates, obituaries, newspaper articles, and Internet messages. "My hope is that these character sketches awaken memories, and maybe bring a whisper of life back into these young men whose sacrifices for our nation are never to be forgotten," he says.
Most of them came from Ann Arbor, including Douglas Atkins, Clive Mosier, Eugene Suarez, and Michael Wallace. We wish we had room to name
them all. But that's why Kinzinger wrote the book.
Richard O'Neal was born to Iva and William O'Neal in Ann Arbor on May 22, 1948. He graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1966 and entered the Marine Corps in July 1966. He began his tour of duty in Quang Tri Province in May 1968, and two months later he was dead, leaving behind his parents and seven siblings. He had lived twenty years, two months, and four days.
Charles Boss, born in Charle-
voix, graduated from Ann Arbor High in 1965. He entered the Air Force that August and began his tour in Vietnam in December 1966. In his last letter home, he wrote, "We have been having a lot more crashes lately ... It just seems they all come back shot up." He told his parents that he was going to Saigon to see his buddy and would be there to celebrate his birthday. A day before his birthday he was killed, along with seven others, when, Kinzinger writes, about "50 Soviet-made rockets slammed into the airbase."
Daniel Illi, a fifth-generation Ann Arbor man, graduated from Ann Arbor High in 1964. He married his high school sweetheart, Shirley, and entered the army in November 1965. He was killed by small arms fire in November 1966 while helping a fallen comrade.
David McKenzie was captain of the St. Thomas football team and lettered in basketball, baseball, and track. He and a good friend, Jim Kennedy, signed up for the Marines together about a week before high school graduation. Both planned to use the GI Bill to help pay for college.
McKenzie's tour of duty in Quang Nam Province began in June 1965. He wrote his last letter to his family on July 9. "My platoon Sgt. asked me if I wanted to go to Japan for three weeks," he wrote. "Get some liberty, a bath and some good chow. A dream come true." Three days later he was killed. He lived 20 years, 4 months, and 29 days.
Charles Brown's family--his dad was a retired Ann Arbor fireman--called him "Chuckie." His friends called him "Charlie Brown." He was a member of the Stone School Boy Scout Troop 3 and enlisted in the Army even before graduating from Ann Arbor High, with honors, in 1966.
He began his tour in Thua Thien Province in November 1967 as an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division. In the next six months, he was wounded twice in combat and recovered from malaria twice. He had just returned to his unit in April and been promoted to sergeant when he was killed on May 21, 1968. He lived 20 years, 4 months, and 24 days.
Researching and writing the book took about ten years. Kinzinger and the other volunteers would meet at the Village Kitchen in the Maple Village shopping center every two weeks to turn in the bios they had received and collected.
"I had about seven of them," says Lynda Gladstone. Her brother Ronald Koch was the first Chelsea resident to die in Vietnam. "The handwriting was on the wall," Gladstone reflects. "If you didn't go to college or Canada, you were going to go."
The last time she saw him was at Detroit Metro when he left for Vietnam. "My brother drove a 396 Chevelle Super Sport, bright red and 325 horsepower with white walls," she remembers. As they were saying goodbye, "he handed me the keys and said, 'Keep the carbon out of it.' I drove it to high school every day."
She was at school when someone told her, "You've got to go home." "I asked, 'Why?' I was so naive. I was driving the Chevelle. I got out of the car. My dad, who was a strong, German farm guy, had tears in his eyes." Ronald had been killed in the Tet Offensive.
Kinzinger's book "helped us find joyful memories," Gladstone says. "Not just the painful ones."
[Originally published in September, 2019.]
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