Veteran aims to honor friend by helping others
Monday, November 7, 2011
Like so many men during the late 1960s, Don Hentges answered the call to service without reservation or complaint. What he received in return was a strengthened love for his nation and an untiring desire to assist his fellow veterans.
“I got drafted in December 1967,” Hentges recalled. “I kind of knew it was coming. Back then you either went to college, enlisted in the service or were drafted.”
After being rushed through his intial training as an infantryman, Hentges found himself in the jungles of Vietman serving as a rifleman with the 101st Airborne.
But during a patrol in November 1968, Hentges experienced a traumatic event that would forever change his view on the meaning of sacrifice.
While out on patrol along a riverbank, Hentges and two of his fellow soldiers tripped a booby trap making a river crossing. The resulting explosion killed Hentges’ close friend.
Suffering leg injuries and an eye wound from the blast, Hentges admits, “My biggest fear was having seen so many people die from shock. I kept telling myself it was alright in spite of the pain.”
After spending a short time on board a hospital ship and recovering in Yokohama, Japan, Hentges was sent to complete his recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.
The leg wounds healed but Hentges never regained sight in his injured eye.
Hentges was issued a medical discharge in June 1969 and received a Purple Heart for his combat injuries.
Now working as a regional inventory control analyst for Ikon Office Solutions in Jefferson City, Hentges enjoys his spare time serving local veterans in fulfillment of a promise made to a dying friend.
“My friend … Willy McVea, volunteered to go on that mission with me that day,” said Hentges, recalling the date he was wounded in Vietnam. “When he died, I promised myself and him that he would never be forgotten.
As the former commander of the VFW Post 35 in St. Martins and the current president of the Jefferson City Veterans Council, Hentges continues to invest countless hours assisting veterans in applying for medical and disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He is also recognized as an integral resource for community members seeking ways to honor the nation’s heroes.
“Don Hentges has been a wonderful asset for the kids in the (Jefferson City High School) Ambassador Club,” said Chris Jarboe, a counselor with the school.
“He wants the young people to recognize the contribution of our veterans … and because of his energizing spirit and involvement, many of our kids have gone on to volunteer for patriotic events throughout the community.”
His volunteer spirit has earned Hentges several accolades to include a World War II-era M-1 Garand rifle presented during a ceremony at the Jefferson City office of Rep. Hartzler to honor his dedication to veteran causes.
And in a ceremony today at his Capitol office, Gov. Nixon will present Hentges and three local veterans a Silver Star Banner to recognize the injuries they sustained in a combat zone.
Noting that his continued support of the military community is not about recognition or praise, Hentges said as long as there are those willing to selflessly donate their service to the continue, he will continue to support them in any way he is able.
“None of us (veterans) does what we do in pursuit of congratulations or applause — we believe in recognizing those who have given their all,” Hentges said.
“I really believe that by helping our current veterans, we are truly able to honor those who never made it back home.”
Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.