Honoring our veterans
Larry Kutschma with a puppy he found in Vietnam more than 40 years ago.
November 09, 2011 | 07:59 AMAmerica is losing its veterans. Each year, we say goodbye to servicemen and women who, in their younger days, put their lives on the line to protect all of us and our way of life.
Gone with those veterans are the memories they held. Those memories are replaced with the greater distance that spreads between current generations and the past.
Local U.S. Army Veteran Larry Kutschma knows this story all too well. He has spent much of the past several years advocating for his fellow veterans and trying to keep alive the respect he believes everyone should have for those who have given so much.
The Wisconsin Commander of the VFW, Kutschma said Veterans Day has a significance that shouldn't be forgotten by veterans, their families or the communities throughout the state and country.
Kutschma, 64, who travels around the country as the state VFW commander, said he believes patriotism and strength in America comes from the sacrifices made by soldiers from the past and the present.
"How can we neglect that?" he said about Veterans Day. "It is a small measure to respect those sacrifices."
It is because of the veterans over the years that Americans have the "magnificent" freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, just to name a few, Kutschma said.
"There is an unbounded and unlimited debt many take for granted," Kutschma said.
Kutschma wrote a letter that will be printed in the VFW newspaper. At the end, he writes, "We must continue to unite together, and work together and then God willing, together we can celebrate successes always keeping hope alive and serving our veterans. My respect and warmest regards to you all and remember, when we became soldiers as brothers in arms, we became greater than ourselves."
Here are some stories of local veterans and their service.
World War II
Lake Geneva's Joseph DLugosz, 86, may not have had the opportunity to storm the beaches at Normandy or flown bombing raids over Berlin, but he performed his duty to protect the United States during WWII.
DLugosz served on a subchaser patrolling the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of southern Florida.
Submarine chasers were designed to destroy Japanese and German subs in WWII. The main weapon on the chasers were the depth charge, but they also carried machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.
Originally from Philadelphia, DLugosz was just 18 when he was drafted into the Navy. Because of his youth, DLugosz admits he missed out on some things, including his high school graduation and the activities of typical teenagers.
"The only thing that bothered me (about my service) was that I never had the chance to stand on the corner and whistle at a girl," he said with a smile.
But, he still is proud of his service, even though he admitted it was boring at times. There was a lot of training for just about everything on the ship.
"You would often waste time doing something, but you would have to ready for action to protect, and when the time came, all hell broke loose," he said.
DLugosz said his sub chaser dropped depth charges, which were called ash cans by the enlisted men. The patrolling crew kept alert for enemy submarines. Nothing was safe on a bobbing ship protecting the United States coastline.
"You always feel vulnerable about being blown up or falling into the water," DLugosz said. "Fire is the most scary thing on a ship."
Other duties DLugosz performed included prison guard duty on the base in Orlando and there was more training between tours, including lifeboat and raft safety.
On leave, DLugosz said he ventured with three other men to Havana, Cuba. He said they enjoyed the leave and Cuba.
After his return from active duty, which ended in May, 1946, DLugosz graduated from the Philadelphia Museum College of Art. He later received a masters at Rockford College.
DLugosz was an art director for channels 13 and 39 in Rockford and channel 17 in Philadelphia. There, he designed backdrops for famous entertainers who appeared on the stations.
The commercial artists also taught at Rockford College and then at Milwaukee Area Technical College from 1982 to 2003. DLugosz was nominated to Who's Who Among American Teachers.
During his lifetime, DLugosz has been a freelance artists and personal design illustrator for many books.
DLugosz is a current member of the American Legion Post 24 in Lake Geneva.
"There are not many of us left," he said about his fellow WWII veterans.
Manford "Manny" Kirchoff says he is about as close to a native Lake Genevan as a person can be.
The 79-year-old Korean War veteran also was involved in the founding and the building of the Frank Kresen American Legion Post 24 in Lake Geneva.
But it was his experience seeing family and friends return from war with no help and support that made him realize the importance of creating a legion post.
Kirchoff served in the Navy from 1950-1954 as a machinist mate aboard the USS Pine Island. During that time, he helped maintain the cranes, steering and propulsion of the ship, which tended seaplanes that flew missions over enemy-held territory in Korea.
During four different trips from California to the Western Pacific, Kirchoff and the USS Pine Island traveled to China, Okinawa and the Philippines.
Upon his return to America and Lake Geneva, he knew there was no rehabilitation for veterans and many turned to alcohol to deal with the medical and mental issues they were facing. He said people came back physically and emotionally wounded.
"My brother came back from World War II and there was no rehab and he turned to alcohol," Kirchoff said. "I felt so bad for them. When we came back, there were no parades, no nothing."
Kirchoff said he wanted to do something to change that.
In 1959, the Post 24 was started. It took years of hard work to turn the old Third Ward school into an American Legion post, but it was complete in 1963, according to Kirchoff.
"I was one of the people who tore it apart," he said about the work necessary to transform the old school.
He's been a member of the post for 53 years and held all of the officers posts in the Legion.
At the post, he said veterans have the chance to get together and talk, play cards and have meetings.
"It's someplace for the fellows to go," he said.
A self-proclaimed history buff of sorts, Kirchoff said he has traveled quite a bit visiting battlefields around the country, including Gettysburg. During his time in the Navy, he also saw first-hand Pearl Harbor and the destruction in the Phillipines and Okinawa.
Kirchoff said those visits are "sobering" and they are "indelible" in his mind years later.
He said 700,000 soldiers died during the Civil War, 200,000 during WWII, 35,000 in Korea, 58,000 in Vietnam and thousands in the Middle East in a war Kirchoff said the U.S shouldn't even be involved in.
But, although he said nothing good has ever come from war, he knew he had to serve.
"My three brothers were good Americans and I had to do it, too," he said.
Kutschma served with the 40th Field Communications Battalion, attached to the 5th Special Forces and he was mainly a team gunner, hauling around a .50 caliber rifle. Kutschma called it a "neat job."
He spent his two years of service in Kontum, the highlands of Vietnam. He received several honors for his service, including a meritorious unit commendation.
Kutschma joined the VFW in 1993 with the Lake Geneva and Como post 5811.
He called his work leading the VFW humbling and he "cherishes every day."
Kutschma said the communities across the state and nation are what makes the difference for the VFW and its efforts to help veterans.
"This wouldn't be possible without the help of the community," Kutschma said.
He had a message for all soldiers, past and present.
"Once you're a soldier, you become better than what you were before," Kutschma said. "It is more than honor and pride. There is a brother in arms facet that lasts forever, until you die. I am humble and proud to have been a soldier."