Legionnaire of the Month
Our State and Nation have selected 2016 as the year to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. Therefore it is fitting for us to recognize another American Legion Post 23 member who served a tour of duty in that war. As a short introduction we will again start from the beginning. Anyone who knows the Kurtz family will find it appropriate that Jim was born immediately after the Hobo Day Parade in Brookings, SD, Oct 27, 1945. That, and a long family tradition with SDSU, seemed to destine his connection to State. Jim (the second of five, and oldest son) spent his early years growing up on the family farm near Elkton, SD, with 2 brothers and 2 sisters. In 1961 his parents divorced, and his mother and the younger children moved to Hawarden, IA, where he graduated from West Sioux Community High School. After graduation, he attended SDSU completing his Bachelors Degree, and later a Masters Degree, in Agricultural Education. He taught Vocational Agriculture for two years in Colman, SD and four years in Garretson. He then switched careers and spent 27 years in banking, primarily in agricultural lending. In 2002, he again switched careers, and took a position with the University of Minnesota Extension in farm management education. Since last year, he calls himself pretty much retired. Although it is an impossible task to condense the years of 1969-71 into one or two pages, here is some of what Jim had to say.
My Vietnam Experience
“On my college graduation day, I got a notice from President Nixon to report for my induction physical, and that I was about to be drafted. Prior to graduation, I had signed a contract to teach Vo. Ag. at Colman, SD. I was granted a deferment, and taught there for two years, with the draft board hot on my heels. I reported to the induction center in June, 1969.
I did my basic training at Ft. Lewis, WA. We draftees dreamed of serving in exotic places like Europe or Alaska, but fully realized why we were there. We figured the worst we could get was infantry, and then get sent to Vietnam. The writing was on the wall. With my 11B MOS (infantry), I did my infantry AIT training across the Post at old Ft. Lewis. Following AIT, I was sent to the NCO Academy at Ft. Benning, GA for training as an infantry squad leader (at the time, there seemed to be a demand for squad leaders in Vietnam), then back to Ft. Lewis for some OJT (on the job training) as a cadre sergeant in an infantry AIT unit. Orders followed for Vietnam.
I arrived in country in June of 1970. For whatever reason, my luck seemed to improve a bit, when I was assigned to Battery G of the 65th. Artillery located at Dong Ha, up on the DMZ. It was an air-defense artillery battery. Our guns were called Quad-50’s, and consisted of four .50 caliber machine guns mounted together on a turret, which were mounted on 5-ton trucks for mobility. The North Vietnamese had very few airplanes to shoot at, but the guns were real effective for convoys and perimeter support on firebases. My infantry training had included qualifying on .50 caliber machine guns, but I had never seen a Quad-50. The First Sergeant was checking his charts to see which gun crew most needed another man, so I could orient with the guns for a couple of weeks before being assigned my own crew as an opening presented itself. Meanwhile, the Battery Clerk was processing my paperwork, and was impressed with my test scores, educational background, etc., and called the First Sergeant over to remind him that they were looking for someone he could give a crash course to on how to run the battery office, so the Clerk could go on R&R in about 3 weeks. They also needed someone to soon replace him, so I was given the job. This Clerk turned out to be my best friend over there. We had a lot in common, as we were both older than most of the draftees, both were through college, and each had taught school two years before being drafted (he had been an English teacher in Rhode Island). I was single. He was married with an infant daughter born about the time that he shipped out. He enjoyed his R&R and returned. We soon got word that the battery was to undergo an IG (Inspector General) Inspection, which was a big deal. Between the large inspection and other circumstances including the Clerk finishing his tour, I was well into my tour and continued as the battery clerk for my entire year. We spent about seven months at Dong Ha, and then moved down to Phu Bai, near the city of Hue. My highest accommodation was the Bronze Star.
Vietnam was an unpopular war at home, and not much better over there. Without degrading the terrific troops who made up the majority, it is safe to say that high quality drugs in bounteous supply were a problem in country, and a challenge to our unit. Not a good combination with shells coming in and going out, and the occasional threats of being overrun. My year was not uneventful. but was immensely better than what had been planned for me as an infantry squad leader. I don’t know if it was due to good luck or the grace of God, and have some trouble reconciling either concept. There are names of 58,272 fellow veterans on the Wall. Why were some of us more fortunate than others? In my case, I was fortunate to come home with a good body, a strong mind and little or no baggage. It was great day when your year was finished and you boarded the plane back home (or back to “the world” as it was called). A lot of Vietnam veterans were harassed, called names, spit upon, etc. when they came back to the States, but I was not. I got back to SD, was welcomed home by a wonderful family, had my job waiting for me, went back to summer school to resume work on a Master’s Degree, begin dating Ethel, and continued on with my civilian life. Life has been wonderful ever since.
I could mention that the worst day of my tour for my mother, was when she took a phone call from a man who asked if she had a son James Kurtz, serving in Vietnam. She told me later that her heart about hit the floor. The caller turned out to be Roger Allan, H.S. Principal at Garretson. They were looking for an ag. teacher (present one was getting drafted), and he had heard that I should be getting out in the spring. I was somewhat familiar with the school, the facilities, and part of the staff, so negotiations were done via mail, and I signed my contract to teach Vo. Ag.in Garretson, before coming home.
I would like to share a little of my experiences with the American Legion. The first week that I was in Garretson, one of the nicest guys in town asked if I would be interested in joining the Legion. I told him I would think about it. I had just lied to him, and I knew it. In truth, there was no way that I wanted anything to do with the military, or anything connected to it. I was proud enough for having served, but just wanted to resume my civilian life. Fifteen years later, the right person asked me at the right time to join. I did, and I have been quite involved ever since. Post # 23 is very active, and is a great supporter of the Garretson community. The camaraderie with fellow veterans is important, and as an organization, it is a strong advocate for the needs of veterans, and the widows and orphans of those less fortunate. As citizens, we need to support leaders with good judgment. It would be great if more of our country’s leaders had first-hand experience in the military, but few do. It seems like they are quick to commit our troops to wars that are not well defined by goals or exit plans, and later when the memories fade, or budgets tighten, they often forget the promises made to those who have served. We cannot let that happen.
We have a wonderful community, state and nation. It is our duty as citizens to see that it continues.”
Jim and his wife Ethel have two children (Lisa and Matthew) and 3 grandchildren. Jim has recently retired from the U of MN. He has been a very active member of the Garretson Community and volunteers a considerable amount of his time serving in a wide range of community organizations and board positions. He has held about every officer position in Post 23 including Commander. He has deservingly been recognized as “Outstanding Legionnaire of the Year” twice. He currently is Post 23’s Finance Officer (and has done this for many years). Jim has also served on the County and State Level of the American Legion. Jim, on behalf of Post 23, the Garretson Community, our State and Nation, we thank you for your dedicated service.
Marty Luebke-Post 23