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| 2 min read ” by Doug Marrin, dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Vietnam Veteran and author John Kinzinger

John Kinzinger, author of Sacrifices Not Forgotten, was the guest at Dexter Rotary’s weekly breakfast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. His moving account of creating the Washtenaw County Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the book it produced riveted the group to their seats, moving only at the end to give him a standing ovation.

The book is a collection of stories about the 79 Washtenaw County soldiers who were killed in Vietnam. Kinzinger, who also served in Vietnam, told of his experience in coming home and how that eventually led to his work.

“I was drafted and assigned to an infantry outfit as a battalion radio operator,” John said. “I came home from Vietnam in 1967. I went into my cocoon, like most other Vietnam veterans who served, but who weren’t allowed to feel proud of their service.”

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Washtenaw County Vietnam Veterans Memorial | Photo courtesy John Kinzinger

Almost twenty years later, John got involved with the Vietnam Veterans of America. One of the goals of the local chapter at that time was to build a memorial to honor the 76 men from Washtenaw County who died in the war.

A committee of six, who had no idea about how to go about designing a memorial, set about the task of doing just that. John and his team visited other memorials around Michigan and began to crystallize their ideas. Their plan, full of symbolism, had one simple, overarching objective – remember the 76 men.

“There are five sides to the Memorial representing the five branches of service,” explained John. “The seating has three sides because we have three missing in action. The Memorial is facing southeast for Southeast Asia. The gold lettering is intended to stay in your memory after you leave. The seating area is 21-feet across for the median age of those listed on the Memorial.”

The Memorial, located at 7200 S. Huron River Dr. in Ypsilanti, was dedicated on November 10, 1991. But that wasn’t the end. The momentum of honoring those 76 young men continued carrying John along with it. He realized he was a part of something even bigger than he imagined.

The contacts he had with the family of those named on the Memorial began giving him stories of their young men whom they lost. Over the next 25 years, he collected these memories and organized them into his book Sacrifices Not Forgotten.

“There are 76 stories that need to be read,” John said. “And each time you read it, I believe in my heart that a breath of life comes to that person. If you read the stories you will understand what I’m talking about.”

The book is organized by the high schools the men graduated from. In the book, John tells the stories of Chelsea High School graduates Ronald Koch, Robert Kushmaul Jr., and Scott Smith.

James Harter | Photo courtesy of John Kinzinger

Dexter also lost three young men to the Vietnam War: Roy Branham, Robert Marvin, and James Harter. The Ann Arbor wrote of Harter that he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism for “exceptionally valorous actions on May 12 while serving as a perimeter guard at Quan Loi Base Camp. He engaged the enemy with a heavy and accurate volume of automatic weapons fire … stalling the enemy and giving his comrades time to reinforce the perimeter line.”

Manchester lost James Bihlmeyer, Alan Parks, Rickie Sparks, Dean Spaulding, and Peter Valencich. Saline has two memorialized on the wall: Frank Keck and Russell Michalke.

“This book has had a bigger impact than I ever thought it would,” says John. “I was just interested in making sure their stories were put out. My wife and I have mailed out well over 600 of these books.”

It might be tempting to think, ‘Here’s another author hawking his book for a buck.’ That couldn’t be more wrong because, astoundingly, John and his wife give the books away.

“I challenge you to read the stories and not be touched when you read the story of a young man who was 18-years-old, 19-years-old, 20-years-old,” says John. “When my son went off to college, I was standing in the foyer and looked at him and said, ‘My goodness. Now I know what my mother must have felt.’ I said, ‘You’re just a kid. At your age, I was carrying an F-16 in Vietnam.’”

“This book is dedicated to the men of Washtenaw County Michigan who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. And to their wives, their fathers, mothers, fiancés, siblings, children and good friends. It is also a tribute to all military Veterans who served during that time.” – from the book’s introduction.

If you would like a copy of John’s book, mail $3 per copy for shipping to John Kinzinger, 1717 W. Huron River Dr. Ann Arbor, MI, 48103.

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