WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Rick Wilcynski was 17 when he entered the service. He quickly made a name for himself during basic training.
“I had a platoon sergeant one time ask me if I was stupid, cuz I smiled all the time.”
A skilled sharpshooter, Wilcynski won basic rifle marksmanship during his time a Fort Knox.
“Shooting is a deteriorating skill, if you don’t use it a lot, you, you, you’ll lose it.”
Becoming the honor trainee of the cycle.
“I was pretty gung-ho until the time to leave San Francisco.”
During Vietnam, Wilcynski was assigned to the 101st Airborne arriving at a receiving station in Benoit and eventually making his way to Camp Eagle.
“Camp Eagle was southeast of Huyh, then I was told I had to go to Camp Evans, which I didn’t want to go cuz it’s only 20 clicks from the DMZ.”
Wilcynski flew in helicopters, manning an airborne assault vehicle.
“101st Screaming Eagles, 45 missions, and that’s a lot of missions, 12 months and 12 days.”
It wasn’t long after his arrival that his sharpshooting skills were put to the test.
“One sniper had gotten captured, so they found out that, what, I was a good shooter, you know, and I had schooling.”
He adds a split-second decision to shoot a child soldier haunts him to this day.
“Sometimes, you wonder if you’re going to go to heaven.”
The pain was exacerbated by a rude awakening when he returned home for his one-year tour.
“When we come back, we got no love from nobody.”
Wilcynski would go on to serve six years in the military.
“When I got out, I wanted to be a policeman, so I applied to five places.”
He passed every shooting test and physical test, but he couldn’t pass the psych eval.
“They’d say you’d be too likely to shoot and what. I look back at it now. It’s true.”
Wilcynski would go to work for Boeing re-winging fighter planes, but while his fight on the battlefield was over, the fight for his health was just beginning.
“Agent Orange stays inside you until, until it comes out. It might be you know, five years, it might be 50 years.”
He spent months in the hospital.
“One time it was 11 and a half months. I got out for a month, went right back in for 10. You know, been in a nursing home, in recovery from a stroke, lost a leg.”
Wilcynski says one thing kept him going through the tough times.
“I’ve just been blessed with good people,” he said. “All in all, I’ve had a really blessed life and really good friends, really good friends.”
While Wilcynski said he is the one truly blessed, it’s a shared feeling among so many lives he has touched through the years.
One of his former bosses asked him, “Do you think it’s us that’s been blessed with you? Cuz when I like somebody, I’m loyal,” he said with a grin.
He continues to share that smile and love with the next generation.
“I coached wrestling forever. Lots of kids, had 25 of my own wrestlers, last, last Christmas, love you Bulldog, love you coach, all the time,” Wilcynski. “You take everything you learn in life and put it all together, and then throw away the crap, and then try to become the best guy you can, you know?”
Wilcynski said the most important pillar is his wife of 44 years.