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Seitz, Richard J.
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Lt. General Richard J. Seitz, age 95, completed a storied life on June 8, 2013 after suffering congestive heart failure. Born in Leavenworth, February 18, 1918, he grew up in that city and then attended Kansas State University where in 1939 as a junior he began dating his first wife, Bettie Jean Merrill, a freshman.
That same year Dick, foreseeing WWII looming on the horizon, accepted a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. Once in the Army he went through the sixth jump school class the Army ever had thus becoming one of its first paratroopers.
With the advent of the war, Dick rose rapidly until at the age of only 25 in March 1942, as a Major, he was given command of the 2nd Battalion of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team. Thereafter, he was promoted to Lt. Colonel and, as the Army’s youngest battalion commander, led his battalion throughout its historic combat operations in Europe with the personal radio call sign of “Dangerous Dick.”
The 517th was flung into combat at Anzio at the time of the breakout from that beachhead followed by fighting up the Italian Peninsula. They then made the combat jump into the southern invasion of France at 4 a.m., August 15, 1944 as the airborne element of Operation Dragoon with its subsequent heavy combat in the French Maritime Alps. Finally, put in reserve in Northeastern France in December 1944, Dick was drawing up Paris leave rosters for his men when Hitler launched the Battle of the Bulge.
At that point, Dick’s 2nd Battalion was married with a Regiment of the 7th Armored Division to form what became known as Task Force Seitz.
It was pushed in to plug the gaps on the north slope of the Bulge every time the Germans tried to make a breakout. In doing so, his battalion went from 691 men to 380 through combat losses in some of the worst fighting of WWII. The battalion went on from the Bulge to see even further bloody combat in the subsequent battles of the Huertigen Forrest.
Before shipping out to Europe, Dick and Bettie continued to see each other whenever they had a chance to do so. In 1942, after graduating from Kansas State, Bettie joined the Red Cross and was subsequently sent to England in late 1943 to support the bomber groups of the Army Air Corp’s 8th Air Force.
In the fall of 1944, she was moved to Holland to run an Army rest and rehabilitation center. There in January 1945, she read in Stars and Stripes that Task Force Seitz was heavily engaged in the fighting around St. Vith. By herself, she drove from Holland to the front in Belgium and managed to find the Regimental HQ of the 517th.
But they would not allow her to go on to the very front lines where Dick was. However, this put them back in personal touch which led to their marriage in June 1945 in Joigny, France with one Red Cross bridesmaid and 1800 paratroopers in attendance in one of the greatest love stores of WWII.
Dick ended the war with the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart plus what he most treasured besides his Parachute Wings, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Thereafter, during his lifelong Army career including nearly 37 years of active duty he also received numerous other decorations and awards including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, the French Croix de Guerre, and Legion of Honor.
Along with these awards, his commands included 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 those cities’ riots.
He also commanded the XVIII Airborne Corps and was Chief of Staff US Army Vietnam in 1965 through 1967 under General Westmoreland. As a Portuguese speaker he served two tours in Brazil, the last as Chief of the Joint US/Brazilian Military Commission and one year in Iran as a military advisor. He likewise served in Japan with the occupation forces immediately after World War II.
Dick and Bettie retired to Junction City in 1975. Unfortunately, Bettie died of a heart attack June 1, 1978. Thereafter, Dick was blessed to marry Virginia Crane, a widow, in 1980. She also predeceased him in 2006. In retirement, Dick remained extremely active with the Army through Fort Riley as well as in the Junction City Community and in Kansas generally.
During the Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars he would go out to Ft. Riley to see off and greet the deploying and redeploying units from those fights, no matter the hour day or night.
He was past Chairman of the Ft. Riley National Bank, very active with the Coronado Council of the Boy Scouts, a Trustee of St. John’s Military Academy, on the Board of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, President of the Fort Riley-Central Kansas Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, and Chaired Junction City’s Economic Redevelopment Study Commission among many other activities. He was also honored as an Outstanding Citizen of Kansas, received the prestigious AUSA Creighton Abrams Award, and most recently had the General Richard J. Seitz Elementary School named in his honor on the post at Fort Riley.
He felt a particular affection for the faculty and students of that school whom he visited as often as he could. The best way to describe Dick is that he lived his life “Airborne all the way!” to the very end.
Chronological Biographical Sketch
1918, Born, February 18, Leavenworth, Kansas
1937, Graduated from Leavenworth High School; Enrolled at Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science
1939, May, completed the ROTC program, left Kansas State and commissioned as Second Lieutenant Infantry Reserve
1940, February, called to active duty, sent to Camp Bullis, Texas, and assigned to the 38th Infantry
1941, September 6, assigned to the 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion as assistant platoon leader; November 1, promoted to First Lieutenant
1942, August 11, promoted to Captain
1943, Temporary 2nd Battalion Commander at Camp Toccoa, Georgia; April 12, promoted to Major; Placed in command of 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
1944, February 21 promoted to Lieutenant Colonel; May 31 deployed to Italy; Awarded the Purple Heart; August parachuted into France; Awarded the Silver Star and the French Croiz de Guerre with Palm; December 21 moved to Werbomont, Belgium joined the fight of the Battle of the Bulge; Awarded the Bronze Star
1945, June 23 married Bette Merrill in Joigny, France; August 22 arrived in the United States; November, assigned to the Special Training Section, Headquarters Army Ground Forces, Washington, D.C.
1946, September 2, Patricia Ann Seitz was born in Washington, D.C.
1947, January, moved to Hokkaido, Japan, and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division as Assistant G-3, later assigned Deputy Chief of Staff
1948, October 30, Catherine Seitze was born in Sapporo, Japan; December, appointed Chief of Staff of the 11th Division
1949, January, returned to the United Stated; July, attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth
1950, June 30, graduated and assigned Director of Airborne Training Department of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia
1953, August 24, entered the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia
1954, January 21, competed in Joint Operations and Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia; September 13, departed for Rio de Janerio, Brazil, for assignment as the Chief of the Infantry and Airborne Sections; December 10, promoted to colonel
1956, August 7, Richard M. Seitz and Victoria Seitz were born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1957, July 15, returned to the United States
1958, June 19, graduated Army War College; Assigned to command the 2nd Battle Group, 503rd Airborne Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina
1959, January 3, deployed to Alaska for three months of training and exercises; July, became Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Training, Headquarters XVIII Airborne Corps
1960, June, departed for Iran as training team chief in Mahabad
1961, June, arrived back in the United States
1962, January 27, graduated from the University of Omaha with a Bachelors in General Education and assigned as Executive Officer to Deputy Chief of Staff Personnel on the Army General Staff, Washington, D.C.
1963, December, promoted to Brigadier General and assigned as Director of Combat Arms Officers and later promoted to Acting Director of Officer Personnel
1965, June 12, assigned to Vietnam as Deputy Commander U. S. Support Command, served under General William Westmoreland; August, assigned Chief of Staff and Assistant Deputy Commander
1967, Promoted to Major General; March, left Vietnam to return to the United States (While in Vietnam he received the Legion of Merit, Air Medal, and Distinguished Service Medal); May 24, assigned to take command of the 82nd Airborne Division
1968, February 14, escorted President Lyndon B. Johnson around Fort Bragg to speak with troops deploying to Vietnam; September, received the Distinguished Service Medal upon completing his tour with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg; Assigned Chairman of the U. S. delegation and Chief of the U. S. Military Assistant Group in Brazil
1970, April, assigned as the Assistant Chief of Army Personnel in the Pentagon
1973, June, promoted to Lieutenant General and took comman of the 18th Airborne, Fort Bragg
1975, June 30, retired from the U. S. Army; July, moved to Junction City, Kansas, where he became active in the community and with Fort Riley and Kansas State University/ The General Richard J. Seitz Elementary School was named in his honor on the post at Fort Riley. He was also honored as an Outstanding Citizen of Kansas and received the prestigious AUSA Creighton Abrams Award.
2013, Died June 8, at Junction City, Kansa
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Obituary, June 2013, Richard J. Seitz papers
Creator Source: Library of Congress Name Authority File
Biographical/Historical Note Author: Anthony Crawford