The Vietnam wall includes 57,939 names of men and women who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia. Two of those young men are from Great Bend. Kent Amerine and Edward Saenz. Amerine was described in this paper on Memorial Day.
Today we remember Edward Saenz.
Edward was the son of Joe and Kathryn, the oldest of seven children. The Saenz lived at 1821 Jackson Street in Great Bend. His siblings were Rito, Julia, Ramona, Joe, Monica and Chris. They were members of St Rose Parish and attended St. Rose School.
“He was Pee Wee,” remembered his sister Ramona, who now lives in Wichita. “He was the oldest, so we all looked up to him.”
In the fall of 1967 Edward was not enrolled in school. He wanted to join the Marines but was only 19. He had a cousin in the Marines, Rito Betencourt, and Edward admired him very much. But in 1967, Vietnam, and the unique risks of a war fought in the jungle, was appreciated by almost no one. “Not many of us in high school knew anything about Vietnam or even where it was,” recalled Bill Teater, who was a year behind Edward at GBHS. “Our high school teachers J. C. Smith and Homer Kruckenberg taught history and U.S. Constitution classes and discussed Vietnam. That was the extent of our awareness.”
“My parents went round and round about him enlisting,” said Ramona. “Finally when he turned 20 my parents agreed on the condition that after he finished his service he would return and complete his education. Dad worked for Cale Construction and mom was a breakfast cook at the Holiday Inn. Dad was a World War II veteran and knew the value of service to our country, but my brother was so young.”
Edward enlisted in the Marines two days after his 20th birthday on January 11, 1968 at the Recruiting station in Kansas City. Twenty days later was the Tet Offensive -- an assault by the Viet Cong of 100 cities and outposts across South Vietnam, including Hue and Saigon, and the U.S. Embassy was attacked. Historians say it was a turning point for the war.
Edward was a private first class in the Marines. Upon arriving in Vietnam 26 June 1968 he was assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
Once he arrived, he wrote his family.
“I recall our Mom sending letters and packages weekly. We would bake cookies, banana nut bread or candy and send to him along with other items she might be sending. We remember Mom dying white T-shirts green and sending them as well,” Ramona recalls.
But his time there was short. Edward died on October 2, 1968, due to fragmentation wounds to the head due to the accidental discharge of an M-79 in the vicinity of Thon Bang Son, which is 300 miles south of Hanoi.
The family learned the news on October 5th. “The whole time was such a blur,” Ramona remembered. “We were celebrating my youngest sister Monica’s birthday. I believe it was her ninth birthday. There was a knock on the door. There were two Marines there along with the Priest from St. Rose. Mom was in the kitchen and dad was out back. I remember mom collapsing and we called for dad. I really don’t know they coped. Pee Wee had his whole life ahead of him.”
In the days after the news, Don Halbower, the high school principal and fellow Marine veteran, called an all class assembly in the gymnasium. “He said although Pfc. Saenz had left his education early he did not take the easy way out,” recalled Teater. “Halbower explained that Saenz had served his country and in doing so paid the ultimate price.”
“My youngest son Aaron was in the Air Force and served 3 deployments in Iraq and Iran so I can understand how my parents felt when he was sent to Vietnam. To lose their eldest son must have been unbearable,” Ramona told me. “We were blessed with loving parents with a strong faith in God. I believe that faith and knowing they had 6 more children to raise is what carried them through the tough times.”
Joe Saenz, Edward’s father, died in September, 2001. By then, he and Kathryn had been married for 54 years. Kathryn lived another ten years and died December 8, 2011 of kidney failure. The last words of Kathryn’s obituary:
“She was a Gold Star Mother.”