WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – His uncle was a Marine, so he thought they were the toughest of all. Mike Leichner says the service made him a man.

“I’ll tell you what the Marines does, it takes the kid out of you.”

He grew up playing guitar on big stages with his family.

“I was raised by a family that really sang, knew how to sing and was on big stages back in the 60s, 70s and 80s.”

He said the family sang with the Oak Ridge Boys and The Blackwood Brothers, and at one time, he and his brother started singing together.

He started writing his own songs in 2018, and he’s seen chart-topping success with his work, especially with his music that pays tribute to servicemen and women.

From welcoming heroes home from the Kansas Honor Flight to concerts and pulpits all across the nation.

“I’ve got the perpetual smell of diesel in my lungs.”

He’s traveled many miles, sharing his talent, and although he grew up singing Southern Gospel, he now sings many songs with a patriotic message.

“When I am singing those songs, I realize I am not singing just to anybody.”

He understands the sacrifice of those who fight.

“I signed up because Vietnam was raging,” Leichner said. “My friends were going, so I went to fight for my country.”

He was so young when he enlisted that his father had to sign.

“I thought they were going to be glad to see me.”

That certainly wasn’t the case for all of his drill sergeants.

“This is a proud Marine just graduated from boot camp.”

He had a lot to be proud of.

“I came within five shots of breaking the all time Camp Pendleton record.”

He was with an amphibious unit.

“We would hit the ocean.”

Then, they would pull out of big ships.

“The troops that we had and dropped them off at the beach, and then we would follow them through there with our machine gun and try to cover them some.”

His unit had orders for Vietnam.

“They turned us around and sent us back because (President) Nixon had bombed and pulled us out.”

That kept him out of the war, much to the relief of his new bride.

“It meant a lot to me, and this guy has been a friend forever now.”

Leichner’s friend let him borrow his Marine dress blue uniform since Leichner couldn’t afford his own with his $117 every two weeks.

“The sergeant gave her a sword across the rump as she left.”

He said it’s been an amazing journey for the 48 years since.

“The first song that we released went to number one in the nation.”

Now, they are working on their fifth album.

“After I got in my 60s, all of sudden this writing gift come to me.”

He’s already won the coveted Male Vocalist of the Year as well as many other accolades.

“My real love right now is for the military,” Leichner said.

Decades after he became a Marine, he’s still singing the praises of those who serve.

“I never feel my songs anymore,” he added. “I’m singing to those who really paid the price.”

He said that’s when he’s able to perform for those who still wear a uniform.

Leichner will never forget the opportunity to perform at Camp Pendleton, where it all began for him when he was just a kid in bootcamp.

“Two-thirds of the Marines came to the altar. These young men and ladies were going right into harm’s way immediately after that to Afghanistan,” Leichner said. “To know that they had Christ in their hearts to go, that lit my fire in a new way.”

He said he is actively trying to recruit churches in areas where there are military bases near.

He would like to do concerts, but then also get the opportunity to visit the troops.

He said Kansas Honor Flight approached him to write a song about welcoming heroes home. While he was on the road, his talented wife had written the lyrics.

“I came back, and she read me the words she had written, and they were so incredible. I got my guitar and started to put a tune to it.”

Leichner said they are also headed back to Nasvhille soon.

“I am going to rerecord that, but it is going to be not just for Kansas, but it will be a national version.”

He has always given back to military causes and currently donates part of the money from his CD sales to those who suffer from PTSD.