Hillsboro man doesn’t regret serving in Vietnam War

Wayne Kreutzinger served in the Vietnam War until an injury forced him to go home. Now he and his wife help out at the Hillsboro American Legion and serve their community.

Hillsboro’s Wayne Kreutzinger joined the National Guard in McPherson right out of high school.

“We no more went through basic training and everything there in ’66 or ’67 and we got called up. We went out to Fort Carson, CO and then I volunteered to go to Jungle School in Panama since the only thing you had to do in Colorado was smoke cigarettes and drink beer,” said Kreutzinger.

In Panama, Kreutzinger’s group covered about 20 miles a day on foot through the jungle.

“I’ll guarantee in two weeks down there, we were in pretty good shape. And I met some real decent guys down there,” said Kreutzinger.

He enjoyed his time there and planned to come back and go to ranger school. He applied for ranger school but never made it since he got called to Vietnam.

Kreutzinger served in Vietnam in the war for two months and then ended up stepping on a mine and severely hurting his leg.

“I was in and out of the hospitals for several months, but from what I’ve seen in that hospital, I was very lucky,” said Kreutzinger.

Kreutzinger said his doctor was going to take his leg off but he had words with him about it and the doctor left it on.

“The injuries were serious, darn serious. I got infection in it, and that’s what got me,” said Kreutzinger.

He recovered in a hospital in Japan for a few months and then was sent to Ft. Riley for five to six months to recover.

“I was assigned in the hospital there but not actually in the hospital as a patient. It took about six or seven months before I could really walk decent halfway decent, and it took a couple of years before I learned how to really walk again,” said Kreutzinger. “But like I say, I was very fortunate. It could’ve been a whole lot worse.”

He said he never really got bitter because of an encounter with someone when he was being loaded into the helicopter to get medical help.

“The guy that I was with all the time in there was out loading me on the helicopter, and he said, ‘You know what? You’re going home. You’re gonna be hurting, but you’re gonna be able to go home. I don’t know how I’m going home.’ I’ll just never forget the way he said that, and I have no idea what happened to him after that,” said Kreutzinger.

He said that he doesn’t regret serving at all even though he sustained a lifetime injury from the war.

“I don’t regret serving at all. It could have been a whole lot worse,” said Kreutzinger. “There was a few years there where I kinda held it against them [Vietnamese] to a certain extent. But I realized I was lucky, very lucky really. It took a few years, but I got over that and realized that could have been a whole lot worse. You never get over it though. All the VA benefits in the world ain’t gonna gonna let you forget all that stuff over there.”

Kreutzinger next got assigned to a brace shop.

“So a lot of that stuff had to be welded up, and that’s what I had done for work before I got in the National Guard,” said Kreutzinger.

When he got back home to Kansas, Kreutzinger settled back into life and ended up marrying his wife Neva and raising their two children. He joined the VFW and the American Legion and both helped him with applying for disability and other services. He has been involved in both organizations for over 55 years.

He and Neva enjoy going to the VFW in Marion and attending the steak dinners and fish fries there. Neva serves on the Ladies Auxiliary and does a lot of good for the Hillsboro community through there.

Kreutzinger recently gave back to the Legion community when he made a large grill for them. The grill can cook between 80 and 100 steaks at one time.

He even figured out how to make it so the coals and ash could be dumped out and keep the grill from getting rusted.

“They had asked me for several years about making a grill, and I kept putting it off. For the simple reason is they have the steak fried, and then you got all them hot coals in there. Well, you let that go, and then it rained, and all that ash would be in there, and it never would last long. It rushed out right away. It took me a couple years, but I kinda figured out how to build one to where you could pull a lever, and it would just slip over upside down. Then it was all cleaned out and wouldn’t rust. Then I took my plasma gutter, cut the letters for the name of the Legion, and I welded them to the bottom of that so that when it’s turned over, somebody wants to borrow it, they gotta look at that and see who it belongs to,” said Kreutzinger.

He also made the grill out of material that was three times heavier than originally planned to keep anyone from stealing it.

“I was glad they liked it and that thing will probably last a lifetime in there,” said Kreutzinger.

“Wayne’s wife Neva is an auxiliary member and she really does a lot. Every meal we have, they’re both involved. He does all kinds of other stuff and his wife does too. They’re very, very good members and good people,” said Josh Plenert, Commander of Post 366 Hillsboro American Legion.

Kreutzinger, who retired from working over 40 years at AgCo, now keeps busy by attending VFW and American Legion activities and working on his never-ending list of projects.

While he carries some bad memories, Kreutzinger has had more positives come out of his service than negatives. He still keeps in touch with several of the men he served with in the National Guard. And he feels good about his time of service.

“My biggest fear over there in Vietnam was to shoot somebody, the innocent person. Because you never knew who was gonna pop up and they might be the regular Vietmanese who were innocent. But I got very lucky on that part of it,” said Kreutzinger. “There was good times and bad times. I don’t regret any of it and am glad that I served.”

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