Pastor Caleb Williams knows exactly what it’s like to serve in the U.S. Military. The new pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, just a short walk to the Kerr County Courthouse, gladly accepted an opportunity to offer an opening and closing prayer during the remembrance Wednesday of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s formal end of combat.
In his prayer, the former U.S. Army first lieutenant remembered the sacrifices of Vietnam Veterans while noting they were often mistreated by many after they returned home. For Vietnam Veterans, the saying isn’t thank you for your service but welcome home.
Nearly 100 people gathered at the courthouse’s War Memorial, which notes those Kerr County residents who lost their lives in the nation’s wars. They also remembered the sacrifices made by those who served in a way that consumed and divided America in the 1950s through its end in 1973.
Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly, an Army veteran, and Kerrville Mayor Judy Eychner read proclamations marking March 29 as the official day the Paris Peace Accords marked as the end of fighting. In 1975, the North Vietnamese Army took control of the south by sweeping into what was then Saigon — effectively ending the war forever.
Many Vietnam veterans were scattered among the crowd, now in their 70s, their ranks slowly fading. More than 2.1 million men and women served in Vietnam. One Veteran’s Affairs study suggests that 500 Vietnam-era veterans die every day.
That makes the words of Williams, who also served six years in the Navy before receiving his commission to serve in the Army, remain powerful today — a word of thanks but a reminder to be welcoming for those who risked their lives in service to the U.S. and Vietnamese, who were determined not to live under Communism.
The National Archives lists six Kerrville residents as being killed in action during the Vietnam War. Others died during the conflict, but here’s what we know about these men:
- U.S. Navy Corpsman Manuel Denton died in a helicopter crash on Oct. 8, 1963, in the Quang Nam Province, just south of Da Nang. Reyes was 22 and married at the time of his death. The military never recovered his body. Reyes is the first combat death of a Kerr County resident in Vietnam.
- Army Sgt. Anthony Kunz was killed in action near Pleiku on May 4, 1967 as a member of the 4th Infantry Division. Pleiku is located in Vietnam’s central highlands near the Cambodian border. Kunz, 21, was married at the time of his death.
- U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald Pfeuffer was killed in action on July 27, 1967 by an explosion near Hue. Pfeuffer, 21, was a machine gunner.
- Army Pvt. Richard Lozano, a draftee, died on Sept. 1, 1967, in the Quang Tin Province as part of the 4th Infantry Division. Lozano was 21.
- Army Sgt. Duane Johnson, 21, died on Aug. 13, 1968, in the city of Kon Tum. Johnson was part of the 4th Infantry Division.
- Army Sgt. Curtis Dees, 31, died on May 5, 1969, in the Hua Nghia, a city west of what was then Saigon. Dees was part of the 25th Infantry Division and married at the time of his death.