JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (WIBW) -- He was a philanthropist, a mentor and a "genuine American hero"- his exploits on the battlefield the stuff legends are made of and a man who had an equally lasting impact on his community.
Funeral services were held in Junction City and on Fort Riley Monday for Lieutenant General Richard Seitz, a well known World War II and Vietnam veteran who passed away at the age of 95. A mass was held at Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church followed by an inurnment at Fort Riley's cemetery with full military honors.
During his 35-year career as an Army officer and Paratrooper, Seitz, a native of Leavenworth, Kansas, commanded the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II, the 82nd Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps.
He started off at Kansas State University and was commissioned early because he had high school ROTC and ROTC at K-State.
"He joined the war effort and became one of the early parachutists. He joined the 517 Parachute Infantry Regiment. They fought in Italy and they jumped into southern France. He fought all the way across Europe, including the Battle of Bulge," said his nephew, Retired Colonel John Seitz.
When he was placed in command of the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment in 1943, it made him one the youngest infantry battalion commanders during World War II at three days shy of his 25th birthday.
He remained in the Army after World War II and was promoted to colonel in 1954.
Seitz was promoted to brigadier general in July 1963 and two years later, he was named Assistant Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Vietnam and then served as Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Vietnam and Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Vietnam.
In March of 1967, he was promoted to major general and later assumed command of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. In late 1968, he personally commanded the effort to put down rioting in Washington, D.C. following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
In May 1973, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and served as the commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg and retired from active duty in 1975.
His military awards, decorations and civilian citations include: the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.
"Dick Seitz is an American icon. He’s like John Wayne. He was one of the first paratroopers. He jumped behind German lines three times," said Senator Pat Roberts of the genera, his close friend. "He was at Anzio, the Black Forest, the Battle of the Bulge. When Hitler’s troops almost broke out, it was Dick Seitz's paratroopers and Dick Seitz that stopped them. He didn’t stop there. He was with MacArthur in Japan, when we had the riots in Washington and Detroit, they called on Dick Seitz to lead the effort to quell the riots but in the proper way."
Seitz lived in Junction City for decades after retiring from the military.
He was involved in many local organizations and a longtime supporter of Geary County schools. He worked on school bonds for the construction of Junction City Middle School and other elementary schools in the district. He would frequently visit local schools to meet with children to talk about leadership and greet teachers and staff members.
"He had a distinguished wartime career but I think his career after he retired is even more special because he was a mentor and coach for many of the commanders at Fort Riley. He did a lot of things in the community with the Boy Scouts, with the YMCA. He was a fixture. I’m going to miss him greatly,' John Seitz said.
General Seitz was humbled last year when Fort Riley named its new elementary after him. The school's mascot is the dragon in honor of the battalion Seitz commanded during World War II.
"He went down there regularly. He and the principal became very good friends and he’d walk the halls and talk to students and he was an inspiration to those children. It was a very special thing for him," his nephew told WIBW.
"This man was a national treasure and genuine American hero, very unassuming, very self-effacing, very humble man. That’s on the outside. On the outside, he was tough as nails, Airborne all the way," Senator Roberts added.