To say retired Lt. Gen. Richard J. Seitz had a storied life is an understatement. Those lucky enough to come in contact with him in his 95 years surely heard the stories: one of the first Army paratroopers, youngest battalion commander in World War II, 4 a.m. combat jump into the southern invasion of France, Battle of the Bulge, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, Vietnam. But, it was the life he led after more than 35 years of military service that contributed to an unforgettable, lasting legacy in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Seitz's Family, friends and loved ones gathered Monday, July 22, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Junction City to honor and celebrate the man who lived his life following four basic principles he set for himself: truth, integrity, sacrifice and self control.
Seitz was born Feb. 18, 1918, in Leavenworth, Kan. He died June 8, 2013, in Junction City. His remains were laid to rest at the Fort Riley Cemetery alongside those of his first wife, Bettie, whom he began dating in 1939 after meeting at Kansas State University. Their love life in itself was storied.
With World War II looming, Seitz accepted a commission and quickly rose through the ranks. At the age of 25, he was named commander of the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team, and shipped off to Europe.
Bettie joined the Red Cross in 1942 after graduating from Kansas State University and served in England and later Holland. In 1945, she read in "Stars and Stripes" about a Task Force Seitz experiencing heavy fighting in Belgium. She drove there alone and found the 517th. She wasn't allowed to go to the front lines, but word was sent for Seitz and he came back to meet her.
Five months after she read about Task Force Seitz in the newspaper, they were married in Joigny, France, with one Red Cross bridesmaid and 1,800 paratroopers in attendance. It was called one of the greatest love stories of World War II.
Bettie passed away in 1978. Seitz married Virginia Crane in 1980. She passed away in 2006.
Hundreds from the local, Fort Riley and XVIII Airborne Corps communities attended Seitz's funeral in Junction City, filling St. Xavier's pews. There they heard of his passion for mentoring young officers and noncommissioned officers at Fort Riley, for he never stopped being a Soldier, his son Richard M. Seitz said.
Seitz truly epitomized what it means to be a Soldier for life, Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commander, said.
"Lt. Gen. Seitz set an example and lived by his principles and Army values his entire life," Funk said. "His passion, grace and leadership make him a national treasure and his contributions to this community will long be felt by those who had the honor of knowing him." Because of Seitz's service, sacrifice and numerous years of service, his legacy is one all young paratroopers of the XVIII Airborne Corps live to emulate, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said. Anderson traveled to Kansas from Fort Bragg, N.C., for the services and presented Seitz's children with an American flag during the inurnment. Seitz never served in the "Big Red One," but throughout his career commanded the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team; 82nd Airborne Division; and XVIII Airborne Corps.
After three decades of military service, Seitz brought his "can-do-anything attitude" to Junction City, his son Richard Seitz said. He was active in everything from the Boy Scouts to Fort Riley National Bank to Rotary to the Association of the U.S. Army.
"Whoa, was that an amazing life we just witnessed," Richard asked the crowd gathered at St. Xavier's for his father. "Here is a man who could do anything -- I mean anything." Richard described his father as a sharp dresser, smooth dancer and, on occasion, sly practical joker. He was also a first-rate gentleman who opened the door for others, stood when a lady entered the room and helped seat them at the dinner table, Richard said.
"If you ever had a chance to hear him speak, you know he could invoke passion and enthusiasm out of anyone he ever met," Richard said.
Seitz's legacy lives on in those he mentored, including the hundreds of children who attended the Fort Riley middle school named for him in 2012. Seitz took the responsibility seriously, regularly visiting the school to interact with students and teachers.
He believed the fate of the nation rested on youth and the teachers who educated and inspired them, Richard said.
"He wanted to ensure they understood how important education is and to respect their teachers," Richard said. Everyone Seitz touched benefitted by his hand, his nephew, retired Col. John Seitz, said. The general was more than just an uncle to John. He was a neighbor, surrogate father, best friend and mentor, John said.
"I'm going to miss him," John said during the service. "I'm going to miss our routine, but I'm going to celebrate his life because I think that's what he would have wanted, and I expect that you all will do the same."