Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Woman seeks car tag for families of combat-killed vets

Woman seeks car tag for families of combat-killed vets

The Wichita Eagle

Judy Dietz wants Kansas to create a Gold Star family license plate like the one she holds from Ohio along with her fathers medals.

The day still haunts her.

The Army showed up at the front door and said her father had been killed in action. Her mother moaned aloud, and eight children sobbed.

And they grew up without a father.

They felt the pain every time they visited a childhood pal who still had a father.

They feel the pain to this day.

Now, Judy Dietz is asking for a license plate commemorating families who went through days like that. Gold Star families.

She has earned a nickname from friends and supporters for her efforts to get the Kansas Legislature to approve such plate.

"Lady Rambo," they call her.

"Dad had told Mom before he left to Vietnam that 'If I get killed, all I am to the American people is just another dead GI.' I do not want this to be his legacy," Dietz said.

Her father, Glenn Nicholson, was killed in combat in Vietnam on May 5, 1968. The 38-year-old tank commander, winner of three Purple Hearts and other medals, was 63 days from the end of his duty.

He left a wife and eight children, ages 1 to 16, back home in Salina.

Dietz was 9.

Her mother, Emilie, raised the kids alone. She died in November at age 82.

"I told her I was going to do this, and I was not going to stop," said Dietz, a married mother of two who lives in Derby.

A bill creating a Gold Star Family license plate is in the works.

Dietz, chairwoman of the Kansas Gold Star Family Committee, last month helped clear the way for it by testifying before a House committee in Topeka against a bill that called for a license plate for military families.

It was too generic and provided only a decal for a Gold Star Family, she said.

Dietz testified that a plate offering only a decal for families who lost members to war was "insensitive, insulting and disrespectful."

State Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, is having that bill revised to provide a Gold Star Family-only plate.

Kelsey said he can introduce the new bill this session, but it probably won't be voted on until next year.

"It's not practical to get through the entire process this late in the game," he said.

Dietz will have time to build support, he said.

Kelsey praised her determination to get the kind of bill she wants.

"Her persistence and her carrying the banner, frankly, that's how these things happen," Kelsey said. "For her, it's a mission, and when you have somebody like her, it carries a lot of weight."

Specialty license plates don't cost the state anything, he said. Groups asking for them have to put up $10,000 to have them designed.

Dietz said national Gold Star Family committee chairman Richard Stobbs of Ohio is helping her raise the money from corporations. Stobbs worked to get a Gold Star Family plate in Ohio and is serving as her mentor for her effort in Kansas, she said.

She also has support from groups of Vietnam veterans and America Legion riders.

Kansas has military plates honoring recipients of the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor, disabled veterans, ex-prisoners of war, National Guard members, Pearl Harbor survivors and U.S. veterans.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill creating a "Gold Star Mother" license plate last year. It's not available yet.

The Gold Star Family plate would be modeled after the Ohio plate, which features a large gold star surrounded by five smaller stars representing the service branches.

Above is the name of the war theater.

Gold Star Families include those who lost members in wars dating back to World War I. Dietz said she knows of 55 Gold Star Families in Kansas, all from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She's trying to locate more such families to gather support. She can be contacted at 316-789-9688, or by e-mail at jadietz@cox.net.

Families of those killed in combat know what it's like to have a member suddenly and violently taken away from them, then have to deal with that for the rest of their lives, she said.

"We were raised to be very proud of our father," Dietz said. "This experience has affected us very much through the years."

The other members of her family approve of her efforts, Dietz said.

They tell her if anybody can do it, she can, she said.

"I'm the middle one," Dietz said, "and the middle one learns to fight."

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.


I like the idea but wished they used the term everyone else uses though
"Killed in Action" not "combat killed"

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