There is no group of individuals I hold in higher regard than our Nation's veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country. Among our veterans I have special admiration for the members of the greatest generation who served during some of our nation's darkest hours and liberated the world from the forces of tyranny.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 16 million Americans answered the call to serve our country and more than 400,000 husbands, fathers, brothers, mothers, and daughters never returned home. More than 200,000 Kansans served during the war, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, future U.S. Senator Bob Dole, who will celebrate his 90th birthday on Monday, along with my own 97 year old father at home in Plainville, KS.
During the dedication of the World War II Memorial here in our nation’s capital, Washington, Senator Dole described the greatest generation this way: “On distant fields and fathomless oceans, the skies over half the planet and in 10,000 communities on the home front, we did far more than avenge Pearl Harbor. The citizen soldiers who answered liberty's call fought not for territory, but for justice, not for plunder, but to liberate enslaved peoples around the world.”
Among those citizen soldiers was a young Kansan named Richard Seitz. When WWII began, Dick was attending classes at Kansas State University, but by the end of the war he had successfully led his battalion through some of the fiercest fighting of the war in the Battle of the Bulge. Our country lost a great individual, a man, a dedicated soldier and an American hero when LTG Dick Seitz recently passed away.
Dick was born in 1918 in Leavenworth, KS. At an early age he showed great interest in serving his country through the Armed Forces. In high school he was the cadet commander of his school's ROTC unit, and he received the American Legion Cup as an outstanding cadet.
As a young man Dick attended Kansas State University and while a student, he accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. While spending a year away from K-State to earn enough money to finish his degree, Dick was called into active duty in 1940.
During an infantry course at Ft. Benning, Dick witnessed the original parachute test platoon and volunteered to become a paratrooper. He was part of the sixth jump school class ever held by the Army and became one of its first paratroopers. Dick rose rapidly through the ranks until at the age of only 25, as a major, he was given command of the 2nd Battalion of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team.
Showing great potential at a young age, Dick was soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. As the Army's youngest battalion commander, he led his men throughout many historic combat operations in Europe.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Dick's battalion and a Regiment of the 7th Armored Division formed what became known as Task Force Seitz. Their mission was to plug the gaps on the north slope of the Bulge every time the Germans tried to make a breakout. During the battle, some of the bloodiest fighting in WWII, Dick's battalion went from 691 men to 380.
Years later when asked about the worst day in this life, Dick quickly identified it as Jan. 3, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, when his unit came under heavy artillery fire and 21 of his men were killed.
Before shipping out to Europe and while still a student at K-State, Dick began dating his first wife, the former Bettie Merrill. When Dick was called up for active duty, Bettie continued her studies at K-State, graduated in 1942 and joined the Red Cross.
In 1945 she was stationed in Holland when she read that Dick's battalion was heavily engaged in the fighting around St. Vith. Determined to see him, she drove by herself from Holland to the front in Belgium and managed to find his battalion. She wasn't allowed to go to the very front lines where Dick was, but her trip put them back in touch and 6 months later they were married in France, with one Red Cross bridesmaid and 1,800 paratroopers in attendance.
Dick spent the next 33 years by Bettie's side before her passing in 1978. Together they raised one son and three daughters and traveled the world as Dick continued to serve his country. Among his many command posts were the 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 503rd Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division, which he led into Detroit and Washington, DC, in 1967 to quell the riots.
An airborne historian, Dr. John Duvall, said Dick was: “... an airborne pioneer and one of the fellows who set the standards for what the airborne was all about. That standard continues to be the standard the paratrooper follows today. They have bigger airplanes and more complex weapons today, but standards were set by them. We have lost a great soldier in Dick Seitz.”
During his Army career which included nearly 37 years of active duty, Dick received numerous awards. Because of his great courage and heroism during WWII, Dick was awarded with the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.
Despite his many accomplishments in the military, one friend said he: “... remained humble and sincere. Often embarrassed by any fuss made over him, he was the kind of person you wanted to be. He was always concerned for others above himself.” As a soldier and commander, Dick's philosophy was always to take care of his troops. Throughout his career, he served as a mentor to many other soldiers and leaders in the Army.
Retired Brigadier General and former senior commander of Ft. Riley, Don MacWillie said: “LTG Seitz showed to me and the entire 1st Infantry Division what it is to be a soldier, a statesman, and a gentleman. Very few men come along who can live as all three--Dick Seitz certainly did. I will miss him not only because of our friendship but because other soldiers will not have the opportunity to learn as I did. Our Army, community and nation has lost a treasure.”
In 1975, Dick returned to Kansas upon his military retirement and 3 years later, his wife Bettie passed away. In 1980, he married Virginia Crane and together they spent the next 26 years actively involved in the local community until her passing in 2006. Dick was a mentor of mine, a friend, and someone I greatly respected. He not only served our country but also his state and community.
Dick settled in Junction City following his retirement, but he never truly retired from serving. He frequently visited Ft. Riley to greet deploying and returning units from Iraq and Afghanistan--no matter the hour, day or night. He was also involved with the Coronado Council of the Boy Scouts, served on the Board of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, and was named an outstanding citizen of Kansas.
Most recently, the General Richard J. Seitz Elementary School at Ft. Riley was named in his honor in 2012. Dick was well known to the students and staff because he regularly visited the school. During his visits, he would talk with the students about what it meant to be a "proud and great American.'' And his message was always to "respect the teachers and be a learner."
His family and friends have described him as a gentleman, compassionate, respected, full of integrity, gracious and giving. He was truly a remarkable individual.
His daughter Patricia said this about her father: “He was my role model. An individual who had great wisdom, great sense of humor, always interested in others, always looking for ways to help others succeed.” Dick lived each day to its fullest and his commitment to his fellow man serves as an inspiration.
Senator Dole had these words to share about his comrade in arms, and he said this, again quoting Senator Dole: “We were just ordinary Americans who were called on to meet the greatest of challenges. No one knows better than the soldier the futility of war, in many respects the ultimate failure of mankind. Yet there are principles worth fighting for, and evils worth fighting against. The defense of those principles summons the greatest qualities of which human beings are capable: courage beyond measure, loyalty beyond words, sacrifice and ingenuity and endurance beyond imagining. I would say that is a fitting description of my friend, Lieutenant General Richard Seitz.
Today in the Senate, when we look for role models, when the American people look for something different from Washington, from what they usually get, we can look to our military men and women, to our soldiers, to people like General Seitz. Not one individual volunteered who was drafted to serve in military who did so for the purposes of republicans or democrats. They did it because they believed that America was a great place, was worth protecting, wanted to take care of its families and future generations. Richard Seitz was that kind of servant.
I extend my heartfelt sympathies to his three daughters, Patricia, Catherine and Victoria; and to his son Rick and the entire Seitz family. I know they loved him dearly and will miss him very much every day. I hope to be at the funeral services honoring General Seitz on Monday. I ask my colleagues and all Kansans to remember the Seitz family in their thoughts and prayers in the days ahead.