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Q&A: Retired Lt. Col. Fritz Reflects On Military Service, Medal Of Honor

Joe Deacon
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Harold “Hal” Fritz speaks during an opening ceremony for the Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial on Thursday in East Peoria's Levee Park.";s:

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Harold “Hal” Fritz is one of 49 living Medal of Honor recipients who fought in the Vietnam War. Fritz was seriously wounded in a January 1969 firefight, but continued to lead his platoon through the battle.

During a 27-year Army career, Fritz also received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart and several other service decorations.

A Peoria native for nearly three decades now, Fritz spoke with Joe Deacon at last week’s opening ceremony for the Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial and reflected on his service, his honors and that harrowing combat incident.

Joe Deacon: What inspired you to pursue a career in the military?

Lt. Col. Hal Fritz: Well, actually, I got drafted – and then I turned around and listed. Because my members of my family have been in the service, my dad's side, my mother’s side; they’ve been in all the services except the Coast Guard. And so, I knew eventually, that I would have to make a commitment. So, the draft notice came in, it wasn’t the best time. So, I turned around – because I had just gotten married – and I enlisted so I’d have a better opportunity to do something that was meaningful for the country, and for myself and for my family. And then I went to OCS, Officer Candidate School, and became a commissioned officer for the rest of my time there.

To me, we don’t have to draft any longer, and I think young people miss the opportunity to provide some type of service to this nation, to thank everybody for the freedoms that they have. And because there’s that void – I’m not saying we should restart the draft, but I think we need to have something to cause young people to say, “I’ve got to do something, to do my part – no matter how small it is – to help preserve and protect the freedoms that we have here for our future generations.” Because the younger people are going to be the older people sooner or the later. If they want to have what I have, they’ve got to work for it.

When you look back at your time in Vietnam, what memories do you have? Specifically, the one day in particular, what motivated you? Was it instinct more than anything?

Fritz: What you have is, I was 24 years old and the people that I had with me, for the most part, were 18 to 20 to 21. And it didn’t matter if I was the oldest one or the youngest one, I wore the leadership tabs. They were looking at me as the lieutenant: “What do we do, lieutenant?” And you’ve got to provide the leadership: a “follow me” type of thing. You can’t just say, “You go here, you go here; you shoot that guy, you shoot that.” You’ve got to show them, you’ve got to give them the leadership. That’s why we did the assault. That’s why we went after them.

So you don’t have time to think about yourself. But (when) it’s all over with and you sit down, you say, “Geez, that was a close one.”

What came across your mind when you received the Medal of Honor and the other decorations that you received over your career?

Fritz: Well, when you look at the valor awards – the Medal of Honor specifically, and the Silver Stars, the Bronze Star for V – you think about the people that weren’t able to get those awards, because they’re not with us, or they weren’t recognized; they’re alive, but they weren’t recognized, but they’re just as valorous as you were. So, I wear those for the men and women that served.

I mean, I wear the award – the Medal of Honor, and I wear the other wards – but they belong to everybody. And that’s why I think it’s important for Medal of Honor recipients to get out there and talk about the Medal of Honor: what it means to them, and what it means to be a messenger, and what it means to carry the message. It’s an important message; it’s overwhelming, but you got to do it. So, it doesn’t quit; it doesn’t quit when you take the uniform off. You’re still wearing the medal.

What is the message that memorials like the Vietnam Wall, how do they inspire the rest of the community?

Fritz: I think the most important thing is people look at that, and they look at these memorials – they’re not there to promote war. But what they are doing, they’re saying “That’s the cost of freedom.” We’re going to have to actually spend the lives of men and women and put them in harm’s way to protect what we have.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.