Farewell to an Old Soldier by LTC (P) Zoltan “Z” Krompecher
Being an Army family means that my wife and children have accepted the requirement to move often: every one to three years we pack our worldly possessions and move to a new location, each one unique in its own way. This lifestyle has led to wonderful relationships, and we look back fondly on the friendship made with a family from Kalamazoo. Recently, the Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo community said goodbye to a man who spent most of his life serving as a natural ambassador to the university, the Army, and the community. He was a friend to many.
In my first week as the Professor of Military Science at Western Michigan University (WMU), a time when I was still trying to figure out where to park, a gentleman with a Soldier’s stature walked into my office and introduced himself as Herb Kenz. A comfortable conversation ensued between two soldiers who, following combat, found academia a welcome environment. Herb shared childhood tales of growing up in Saint Ignace, his journey to war, and the courtship of Jean, the woman who captured his heart.
Following high school, life pushed Herb out of the quietude of the U.P. and into a world broken from war. As a soldier in occupied Japan he guarded Emperor Hirohito and became part of the healing process between former enemies. Five years later, he stared war in the face in Korea. These experiences must have led him to believe the world could be a better place, because he came home to Michigan and Jean (staying in the Army reserves) and decided to help others through teaching, but what I remember most about Herb and Jean was the way they “adopted” WMU ROTC cadets.
ROTC cadets generally represent a variety backgrounds but are united in the hope of one day commissioning as Army officers. They are the great “unwashed” who arrive on campus nervous and apprehensive. To temper their anxiety, Herb and other WMU ROTC Alumni, along with spouses, show up on the first day to grill food, share stories, answer questions, and make newly arrived students feel welcome: a shining example of generations passing hands.
Herb had a warm smile and easy approach which helped cadets see past temporary discomfort by understanding the world is worth getting up for in the morning, even at 0530 to run in the Michigan cold. Through their efforts, the WMU ROTC alumni formed strong bonds with the cadets. They helped the cadets press on towards the finish line together. They made it, and somewhere along the line they discovered each other and themselves. With every new class of cadets, Herb never lost that smile or the warmth that enveloped those of us lucky enough to know him. After graduating, many cadets entered the army ingrained with the lessons of camaraderie that Herb and his ilk helped teach them. Many of these young officers return to campus to impart these same lessons onto new generations of cadets.
Perhaps the deepest lesson Herb taught us, one not found in an Army manual, was not to return to the ordinariness of our lives because faith, family and the greater good are more important than oneself. He loved Jean, their children, his students and WMU. He loved Michigan.
For a time, Herb and Jean participated in Community Theater. It makes sense, because he could adapt to any environment. In the end, it was as if he needed a larger stage, so he left the spotlight to be with Jean.
Last month, alumni and students of WMU gathered in Saint Augustine’s to pay tribute to Herb. Lieutenant Colonel (Retried) John Colburn held roll-call by calling out the names of present service members, each one responding with, “Here, Sir!” When they got to Herb’s name there was no response. Second passed and then a 21-gun salute was fired following by a lonely trumpet playing Taps to honor the kind soul of a man who never really grew old.
I arrived to Kalamazoo knowing nobody, and then Herb showed up.