MAIZE, Kan. (KSNW) — Gerald “Jerry” Dinkel served as an Army Sergeant and fought in one of the largest infantry divisions in one of Vietnam’s heaviest fighting regions.
Two years after graduating from Victoria High School east of Hays and after attending three semesters of college, Dinkel was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968. He completed basic training and was immediately sent to advanced infantry training in Fort Ord, California.
“And I really paid attention because I had a good idea I was going to Vietnam,” said Dinkel. “In 1968 and ’69, Vietnam was pretty hot.”
Upon completion of advanced infantry training and before he was shipped out, Dinkel got married to Lois.
“Not knowing if I’d ever see her again. Pretty tough,” he said.
Dinkel’s 23rd Infantry Battalion headquarters was 30 miles south of Da Nang in the I-Core region. It was one of the most intense combat regions in Vietnam.
“The first couple of months while I was there, it was pretty quiet. Didn’t see much. But on January the 15th of ’69, we got ambushed,” said Dinkel.
Dinkel’s company was marching in line past a village. They had no idea the North Vietnamese Army was entrenched and hiding in the village. They attacked. Two soldiers in Dinkel’s unit were killed. Five more were wounded.
“I went out into this field and got one of the wounded guys and brought him back.”
For this, Dinkel received the Bronze Star with Valor.
“My machine gunner, I was the assistant machine gunner. My machine gunner got killed, and I never got hit for some reason. I’m lucky. But they say your life passes before your eyes. It did that day,” said Dinkel.
Dinkel had another close call when he nearly stepped on a booby trap.
“It was a grenade covered up with dirt and a trip wire, and I saw the dirt in the trail. Of course, they teach you that in training.”
“One day, we were walking on patrol, and you’d see these spider holes. Like little fox holes in the tree line. And it’s no big deal. You see a lot of them. So, I walked up there and looked inside. There was an NVA soldier with a machine gun sitting in there. And he was hiding from us. And I’m here, and he’s not,” Dinkel said very matter of fact.
Dinkel was in Vietnam for a year and one week. He returned to the States, and his next stop was at Fort Riley for seven more months of active duty. Then, he joined the reserves and moved to Hays. He was in the reserves for four years. Eventually, work took him to Great Bend, where he spent to majority of his civilian career in sales and raised his family.
He also stayed in touch with a few members of his original platoon.
Four of Dinkel’s band of brothers came to Wichita recently for a long weekend reunion. The group toured the Cosmosphere and B-29 Doc Museum and hung out in between. Dinkel hadn’t seen one of the four since 1969!
“We remember a lot of the good times. We don’t dwell on the bad times. We had some good times. We were just kids. 19, 20, 21-years old. I told myself when I first went, I said, ‘I’m not going to get close to anybody because if somebody gets killed.’ But when you live with people, you can’t help it if you’re human.”
Like so many other veterans, Dinkel proudly flies his American flag.
“Oh yeah, I’m proud to be a Vietnam veteran. Even though we didn’t get the acknowledgment when we came back, but at that time, it didn’t really matter to me. I was just glad to get home.”
Dinkel and Lois now call Maize home.
If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Jason Lamb at email@example.com.