Lt. Gen. Seitz: Remembering an icon
Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Seitz (center), cuts the ribbon on Seitz Elementary School on Fort Riley. Seitz died Saturday at the age of 95.
June 11, 2013The messages and stories came quickly and easily.
Words about Lt. Gen. Richard J. Seitz were strong and
plentiful — a gentleman, humble, a
leader, compassionate, understanding,
respected, amazing, full of integrity, a role model, an icon, beloved, gracious and giving.
But as friends retired Col. Larry and Kris Githerman explained, "these words are not enough to describe LTG Dick Seitz."
The 95-year-old hero, leader and member of what many call "our greatest generation" died Saturday morning at his home here in Junction City.
"He was the kind of person you wanted to be," the Githermans said. "He was always concerned for others above himself."
Seitz was a true war hero. He was one of the first paratroopers and he rose to the rank of major at the age of 25. He was the Army's youngest battalion commander and led his troops through historic combat operations in Europe and earned the radio call sign of "Dangerous Dick." He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Despite his successes, Seitz rarely talked about himself. His focus was on others.
"He always gave freely and asked nothing in return," Larry Githerman said. "He never traded upon his accomplishments in the military or notoriety and remained humble and sincere. Often embarrassed by any fuss made over him."
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dick Young told a story of what Seitz recalled as his favorite Christmas memory.
"We had him over for Christmas and we were all reminiscing of our favorite Christmas memories," Young said. "Most people talked about their youth."
Not Seitz. He talked about a Christmas Eve during the battle of the Bulge in which he shared wine and a toast to America with his fellow soldiers.
"That was a Christmas he said he would always remember," Young said.
He was giving in other ways, as a mentor to many other soldiers and leaders in the Army.
"LTG (Ret.) Seitz showed to me and the entire 1st Infantry Division what it is to be a soldier, a statesman, and a gentleman," retired Brig. Gen. and former senior commander of Fort Riley, Don MacWillie said. "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."
Later in life, after his service, Seitz was involved in numerous community activities. He went out to Fort Riley to see off and greet deploying and returning units from the fight. He was involved in the scouts and also was named an Outstanding Citizen of Kansas.
One of his latest honors was having an elementary school on Fort Riley named after him. He was all smiles at a ribbon cutting in September 2012 and then he celebrated his 95th birthday in February at the school as well.
But it wasn't those special visits that made the man. According to Seitz Elementary School Principal Samrie Devin, it was all about the message he brought to the school and its children on a more regular basis.
"General Seitz absolutely loved visiting Seitz Elementary," Devin said. "He would come into the office with a box of Whitman's chocolate and an apple for each visit. He wanted to be involved and known to all students and staff."
Devin said Seitz would visit with students to talk about what it meant to be a "proud and great American." His message also was to respect the teachers and be a learner," Devin said.
"He will be greatly missed and we will continue to strive to uphold his values as we make him proud each and every day or as Gen. Seitz would say, 'the very best school in America.'"
It wasn't just that school he was so proud of.
"Lt. Gen. Seitz was a man of honor and a respected citizen in Junction," Unified School District Superintendent Ronald Walker said. "He loved this community and demonstrated it through his giving of his time and resources. He was 'our' General. He loved USD 475 and often referred to it as the 'best school district in Kansas.' His love for USD 475 prompted the naming of Seitz Elementary School in his honor. As superintendent and as a district, we will miss our friend and 'our' General."
It wasn't just the schools that he imparted his military and leadership knowledge too, even though he wasn't always comfortable doing so.
"Over the years, many of us were fortunate enough to hear him speak about many topics to include leadership, Larry Githerman said. "Before one speaking engagement I heard him say, 'Why would they want me to speak to all these young soldiers.' He was sought out because LTG Seitz's words reflected his timeless perspective that leaders must set the example."
Githerman said he did just that every day.
"He understood people, and how to motivate them to their reach their full potential, while remaining compassionate and caring," Githerman said. "LTG Seitz is and will be greatly missed. Not because he was the youngest Battalion Commander or a retired LTG, but because of the man, father and husband he was and qualities he exhibited each day."
His love of Junction City was apparent to those in the area. His involvement in the community was unquestionable.
Former USD 475 superintendent Mary Devin had kind words for Seitz.
"I have never encountered anyone more supportive of this community, schools, staff and students," she said. "Not only was he a great patriot, but he was a community advocate. It was great to watch him interact with the students. I am so glad the school board put that name on the school when he could still be here to enjoy it."
Sundown Salute director Sharon Glessner said he was man "loved by all."
"He was an extra special man to me," she said. "As co-owner of Tyme Out and Director of Sundown Salute I interacted with him at least four times a week. He was a lover and staunch advocate of this community. He was Sundown Salute's Parade Grand Marshall last year and he was so humble it took me a month to persuade him to even be in the parade. He thought someone more deserving should be in the parade. As far as Tyme Out is concerned, he was our No. 1 customer and always came in at least three times a week for his hugs and chicken fried steak.
An emotional Jolana Montgomery-Matney talked about the fact that Seitz knew her grandfather and that Seitz's wife Bettie was a good friend of her mother's.
He was born one day ahead of Jolana and their joke was always that he was just "a day older than me" Jolana would say.
"It kept him young," Jolana said. "We just go way, way back. It's like the greatest generation and he was the perfect example of what these men were. He was the best, the absolute best."
Jolana called him a "cool, cool man" and considered herself "lucky" just to have him in her life.
Others, even those who didn't have as much time with him had some of the same thoughts.
"He found the greatness in every person and commended them for it," family friend Tom Silovsky said. "His recognition of greatness showed his true greatness by always being surrounded by high quality people. He could recognize a fake and a truly good person from a long way off."
Silovsky admitted he had many memories of Seitz in the brief amount of time he had known him.
"There is no doubt he is a great man and one that respected all people and tried to understand their perspective on life and the world," Silovsky said. "He may have disagreed with your way of thinking from time to time but he worked hard to understand your view point without compromising what his own integrity was and what his view was. He always made his own decisions in life after collecting all the facts and did not rely on others to make up his mind."
Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Weigand probably knew Seitz the shortest time of those who sent messages.
"I will always remember him with these thoughts — the most humble and gracious man I have ever known, always put others first and never forgot a name that I know of," Weigand said. "He was extremely gracious to women and felt guilty if he was slow in getting to the door before the lady so he could hold it for her. He told my wife on several occasions that 'chivalry is not dead, it's just slow.'"
Weigand said Seitz "loved soldiers like no one else" and was always complimenting them on their appearance and conduct.
But it was the quick friendship Weigand said he will always remember.
"From the time Mary and I arrived here and we first met Dick, he was like an old friend we had known for years and always acted like we were very important to him. He made our lives here much better by his presence and friendship."
While messages were varied, some included stories about Seitz, others experiences of being around him, there was one statement that was never left out by anyone — he will be missed.
"The greater Fort Riley area has lost an icon," said US Army Civilian Aide John Montgomery. "There was only one Dick Seitz. He will be greatly missed."