Manhattan residents lined Poyntz Avenue on a brisk Friday morning for the return of the largest Veterans Day Parade in Kansas.
The annual event got underway at 9:30 a.m., running down its traditional route from the Manhattan Town Center mall to City Hall. The parade sees participation from local and State elected officials, Fort Riley soldiers, the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard, area first responders, students from school districts like USD 383 and USD 378 Riley County Schools, and of course area veterans groups including the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. See a gallery below:
The annual parade is in honor of veterans of the Vietnam War this year, and continued with the Ceremony of Honor inside Peace Memorial Auditorium in City Hall following the parade. See images from the indoor ceremony below:
It opened with introductions, the posting of the colors and a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner before a prayer led by Flint Hills Veterans Coalition President Chuck Sexton. Opening remarks were delivered by Congressman Tracey Mann, remarking on the recent elections and saying that veterans are the reason democracy has lived on in the U.S.
“Today we pause to honor the sacrifices of those who put their lives on the line for our freedom,” says Mann. “Since 1776, the service of our brave men and women has shaped us all.”
The ceremony continued with recognition of this year’s essay contest winners.
U.S. Air Force Col. (retired) Leroy Stutz, a former POW in Vietnam, was the ceremony’s honored guest speaker. Stutz’s remarks focused on his experience being shot down over North Vietnam on his 64th mission, and the pain and uncertainty he endured in Vietnam prison camps over six years.
“A military guy showed up, he spoke English, he walked up and said ‘you will be very sorry you were shot down in my area’,” Stutz says. “I thought, hell, I’m sorry I got shot down at all – I don’t care what area it is.”
For three years of his captivity, Stutz’s condition was unknown to the military as well as his wife and family. It wasn’t until a released prisoner mentioned hearing his name that his Missing in Action status was changed to POW.
“She waited four years for me to go to the Air Force Academy,” Stutz says, speaking of his wife. “She waited six years for me to come back from Vietnam, the first three years all she know was that I was missing in action.”
He detailed his stays in various locations, each named by fellow POWs things like New Guy Village, Little Las Vegas or The Power Plant; also discussing the violence he experienced if he refused his captors’ commands to sign statements admitting to war crimes.
“And I can still remember exactly what his words were,” Stutz says. “His words were ‘no eat, no drink, no sleep, you sign.’ The first night was a piece of cake.
“The second night was unbelievable, you were so thirsty. The second night, I would swear to my dying day that Karen had called and talked to the interrogator and was giving him hell for the way he was treating me. She said she didn’t do it.”
Despite his doubts, eventually Stutz was granted his freedom and released into the arms of the U.S. Air Force. He was brought to the Philippines where he received medical and dental care, as well as a drink. Stutz was then flown to Illinois, where he was reunited with his family, his wife, and his son.
Years back, the Stutz’s returned to Vietnam and Leroy showed Karen his first cell he stayed in upon his capture.
“She then turned to me and said ‘I think I understand some of the things you talk about now’,” he says. “The smell, the look, everything else — it was exactly the same as it was 20 years before.”
Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs Director Bill Turner presented Stutz with the Kansas Vietnam Era Veteran Medallion, approved by the Kansas Legislature and Governor to recognize the service of Kansas active duty veterans between 1961 and 1975. Since its creation, more than 5,400 veterans have been recognized.
“You made reference many times, talking about these various characters coming up to you and telling you how you were going to be sorry,” says Turner. “I’m quite certain, were they still alive today, that they are sorry for what they did and they are sorry for what you have gone on to do and the example that you have set for generations to follow.
“Your inspiration, your actions, and those of your fellow veterans who’ve served in that time are phenomenal and for that we are deeply grateful. And ma’am, we are equally grateful to you for your love and devotion and your dedication to those that lived and served around you; at the same time, standing fast for Col. Stutz.”