EDITOR’S NOTE: Marv Amerine shared the following recollections of his brother, Kent Amerine, who was killed in action in Vietnam.
Kent was born on April 4, 1943, and being two years and one month older than me, was always my older brother in all the good ways. He said when I entered Junior High, “If anyone bothers you, just let me know.” That was before the phrase “I’ve got your back” was invented. I always looked up to him with respect.
He was a natural-born leader in our Boy Scout Troop 150 and Explorer Post 156. Several of the scouts were in Kent’s classes and they looked up to him. Kent was a star athlete with the Great Bend Panther football team. He went both ways and made a name for himself both on the offensive line and as a defensive back. He was quick and smart.
Kent enrolled at Fort Hays State College in the fall of 1961. He joined the TKE fraternity which had a reputation as being a party fraternity in those days. Our parents always welcomed friends into our house so it wasn’t unusual to find a strange souped-up car in our driveway. Kent brought frat friends down for a weekend of racing at the Great Bend Drag Strip and the street rear ends got changed out for racing rear ends in our driveway. Too bad about the spilled oil.
Kent was good with cars. He inherited our family’s ’52 Chevy two-door to get around in high school. It wasn’t too long before it had three two’s, glass packs, and an eye-catching candy apple red paint job.
I enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson in the fall of 1963. I met my future wife Linda Deanne Mettling when I returned to Great Bend for the summer of 1964. I was a little “slow” in the relationship business and Kent encouraged me by threatening to date her if I didn’t hurry up and ask her out. It worked. Kent also played a significant role in helping our long-distance relationship thrive. Kent drove Deanne down to Tucson to visit me during Spring Break of 1965 (with both of our mothers self-invited along). The purpose of the trip was ostensibly for him to see me before he went into the Army. Kent was available because he had been forced to drop out of Fort Hays because of his poor academic performance. His high intelligence showed in most areas but he was distracted by other activities that affected his academics. Years later I came to the conclusion that, yes, he cared for me, but it was also important to him to encourage Deanne’s and my relationship. It worked. Deanne and I became unofficially engaged during that visit. We waited until the next Christmas vacation to make our engagement official with an announcement and a ring.
Kent married Kathy Walters in 1965 and they moved to San Antonio and then Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. David was born to them in El Paso. I was the first one of the family to see David during a trip back to Great Bend for Christmas vacation. I took a bus to El Paso to catch a train to Pratt to be picked up by my family and Deanne for the final leg to Great Bend. It was too bad that we didn’t have cell phones in those days because I spent a quite a bit of time paging in both the bus station and the train station. I finally found Kent and Kathy at the train station after taking a taxi over there. They were snuggled together in the front seat of their VW Beetle with two-week old David tucked warmly between them with sub-freezing temperatures along with ice and snow outside.
I later took a bus to El Paso during spring break of 1966 to join Mom, Dad, and fiancée Deanne with a visit to Kent, Kathy, and baby David in El Paso. Kent was proud to be serving his country in the US Army. Our dad Loren Amerine had served in WW II during the Battle of the Bulge and our family was steeped in patriotic traditions through scouting.
Kent came back to Great Bend in June of 1966 while on leave just before leaving for Vietnam. Kent and I were walking down Kansas Street one afternoon when we happened to meet Floyd Anderson, a classmate and fellow Explorer Scout. Kent started telling Floyd about his soon departure for Vietnam when Floyd’s eyes glazed over and he grabbed Kent by the shirt and he fiercely shouted, “Don’t go! Go to Canada or any place! Don’t go to Vietnam! It is crazy over there!” Kent was totally taken aback, brushing away Floyd’s hands and saying something like, “I’m going. It’s my patriotic duty to serve our country.” Floyd had explained that he was discharged from the Navy and still had embedded shrapnel from Vietnam. Because of Kent’s character and upbringing, it was absolutely inconceivable to do something unpatriotic like running away from his duty. We talked about Floyd’s crazy behavior after the encounter and were simply not able to understand.
In Floyd’s defense, it was several years later that I found out from our cousin Martin Dean Amerine how insane the Rules of Engagement were in Vietnam. Martin Dean had been a helicopter crew chief. For one example of crazy ROE, enemy soldiers would be seen carrying mortars and rounds in plain daylight outside of the perimeter fence of his base and our guys couldn’t shoot at them even though they knew that those rounds would be coming into their base that night, killing them or some of their buddies. It WAS insane and Floyd had experienced it and wanted to protect his innocent and respected friend. Kent, however, was immune to Floyd’s insistent demands.
Kent was a Medic and had been in Vietnam for 5 weeks at the time of his fateful trip into the jungle. This was supposed to be his last trip to the field as he was scheduled to go back to Army headquarters the next week to teach swimming lessons. His unit was ambushed after they disembarked from the helicopter and the escaping helicopter crew noted that none of the guys were moving. Our original report was that Kent was listed as MIA and it took several days before the helicopter could get back to the drop zone for the discovery to be made that all of the soldiers were in the same positions where they had fallen.
The first visit to our house in Great Bend was from a pair of military men telling us simply that Kent’s group had been ambushed and that he had been declared MIA but we didn’t have to give up all hope for his survival because it was common for soldiers to “play dead” under those circumstances so they wouldn’t take any more fire. The notification that his lifeless body had been found came on Sunday morning, nearly a week later. There had been a terrible lightning storm in Great Bend on Saturday night and many homes were without power and had a lot of damaged wiring and appliances. The officers came to Mom with the bad news that Kent was now listed as KIA. Someone called Amerine Electric that Sunday morning knowing that Dad (Loren Amerine) and I were out on service calls to help people get their power back on and prevent further damage and danger from fires. Dad and I were working together on our third or fourth house that morning. I happened to be back at the shop getting supplies and was able to answer the phone. I was asked to get to Dad and tell him the news so I drove over to our job site and gently told him that Kent’s body had been found. I had never seen Dad cry before. After a bit of time for him to recover and after a call back to the house, Dad and I finished our jobs. Dad’s duty was to help people in need. Kent had inherited the character trait of serving others.
Once again, Kent’s and my life were closely linked. Kent was killed on Aug. 2, 1966, at the age of 23. Deanne and I were to be married in Great Bend on Aug. 14, 1966. We were torn about what to do but Kent’s widow Kathy responded and insisted that we not change our wedding plans. She attended with baby David in her arms and Kent’s second child Mitch on the way. We shortened our honeymoon plans and came back for two days for Kent’s funeral before heading out again to finish our honeymoon.
I was very bitter towards draft dodgers for several years until about 1970 when I attended a presentation on amnesty in our Tucson church. I can tell you that I absolutely DID NOT WANT TO GO to this event because I KNEW what I felt about those who shirked their duty and the feeling was VERY strong and VERY personal. I had felt that supporting amnesty for draft dodgers was simply un-patriotic. However, I was fortunately drug to this event by my understanding wife. She saw an opportunity to address the bitterness that she had observed. The speaker caused me to realize that my bitterness was eating me and not affecting the ones that I was bitter towards. Amnesty literally means “to forget.” I was able to forgive them and lose my bitterness but didn’t succeed in forgetting until many years later.
Kent’s legacy lives on with two fine sons with families of their own. Both David and Mitch exhibit his positive character traits of honesty and responsibility. Kent has a place in my heart that can never be filled. I never served in the military except for ROTC at the U of A because of arthritis discovered in high school, but I have the utmost respect for those who have served and serve now. I love our National Anthem but can’t sing it even now without choking up in admiration and respect for those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. I salute all service members and first responders. God has blessed America, now America needs to bless God.