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Kansas senators seek to honor Lt. Gen. Seitz

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas' two U.S. senators are seeking to rename a Veterans Affairs clinic in Junction City after a decorated World War II veteran who continued serving the military community around Fort Riley long after he retired.

Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts filed a measure in the Senate Friday to honor Lt. Gen. Richard Seitz by renaming the health facility after the late general. Seitz died in June at age 95.

Moran and Roberts, both Republicans, said designating the outpatient clinic in Seitz's honor was a "fitting tribute" to his work around Fort Riley.

"Our country lost a great man, a dedicated soldier, and an American hero when Lieutenant General Dick Seitz recently passed away," Moran said. "Dick was a mentor, a friend, and someone I hold in extremely high regard."

After leaving the Army, Seitz became a fixture around Junction City and Fort Riley, home of the 1st Infantry Division. During the past decade, Seitz was present as soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and there to greet them at all hours of the night when they returned.

"His focus was constantly on what was best for soldiers and their families. He always had time to lend his support, and the soldiers and their families admired and loved him," said John Armbrust, a Manhattan resident and executive director of the Governor's Military Council. "He had a positive impact on everyone he met. He will always be an icon for Ft. Riley, the soldiers and families that had the privilege of coming in contact with him and the entire Flint Hills region."

The Geary County school district named a new elementary school located at Fort Riley after Seitz in 2012.

Seitz, who was born in Leavenworth, was attending Kansas State University when he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. He volunteered to be one of the first paratroopers in the Army, graduating from the sixth class of jump school.

He was promoted to major in March 1942 at age 25 and put in command of the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team. He was later promoted lieutenant colonel and was the Army's youngest battalion commander.

Upon being sent to Europe, Seitz and his soldiers part of the invasion of Italy and battles near Anzio. On Aug. 15, 1944, the battalion parachuted into southern France and faced heavy combat. The unit was later assigned to northwestern France. Seitz was making assignments for soldiers to take leave in Paris when the Germans launched an offensive, later to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Seitz and his men formed Task Force Seitz along with the 7th Armored Division to plug gaps and stop the German advance. His battalion went from 691 soldiers to 380 in the fighting.

"When Hitler's troops almost broke out, it was Dick Seitz's paratroopers that stopped them," Roberts said. "Over his lifetime, General Seitz's honor and valor were only out shown by his commitment to his fellow men and women who bravely serve in our nation's armed forces."

Seitz married his college sweetheart, Bettie Jean Merrill, who was serving with the Red Cross in Europe, during a June 1945 ceremony in France attended by 1,800 paratroopers.

For his actions in combat, Seitz was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.