Don Hentges, of California, Mo., was honored twice recently for his volunteer service to DAV and his fellow military veterans.
During a ceremony at the Missouri state Capitol building, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder presented Hentges with the 2016 Veterans Service Award, given to veterans who provide exemplary volunteer service to their communities. He was also awarded the 2016 Military Award from the American Red Cross of Central and Northern Missouri.
“I was very honored and humbled to receive the awards,” said Hentges.
Hentges, a DAV life member, was drafted into the Army in 1967 shortly after high school and was sent to Vietnam where he was severely wounded in action. His best friend was mortally wounded.
“The loss of his best friend in Vietnam weighed heavily on his mind and became the driving force that motivated his deep involvement in veterans’ issues,” said Vic Lovell, fellow veteran and longtime friend who nominated Hentges for the service award.
Hentges was instrumental in bringing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall to the city last year for the first time since 2005.
“When we did this in 2005, I didn’t want to do it because I was scared of the wall,” said Hentges. “I guess I just didn’t want to face it. I lost a very good friend. The day that I was wounded, he died. I just tried to forget it.”
But Hentges said he will never forget.
“He went with me on patrol that day,” said Hentges. “I tried to have him stay back because I had taken him out of an ambush the night before. But he said, ‘I want to go with you in case you need me,’ and he died.”
“I promised him I would do everything that I could to make sure he was never forgotten,” said Hentges, who held his dying friend in his arms. “That’s what drives me to do what I do.”
“Combat veteran Don Hentges has become the local voice and activist for military veterans in Central Missouri,” said the Red Cross’ news release for his 2016 Military Award. “Hentges has vowed to fight for our military heroes—those who could return, as well as those who could not.”
Hentges has become a pivotal player in Missouri’s veteran community and a pillar of strength for veterans. He regularly assists DAV Chapter 17 in Jefferson City, Mo., with fundraising and local bingo functions, as well as speaking at local high schools and the state Capitol about the ideals for which America’s servicemen and women fight. He also routinely visits veterans living in assisted living facilities and serves as president of the Jefferson City Veterans Council.
“Having a seasoned and proven leader giving up his personal time to assist and help his fellow veterans is absolutely invaluable to DAV and veterans alike,” said DAV National Director of Voluntary Services John Kleindienst.
“It’s our job to get more and more people involved,” said Hentges. “We need to educate and work with the public, so that they understand the sacrifices of our veterans. Unless you have a family member in the military, it’s hard to realize the sacrifices they make. It’s what my life’s work has been all about.”