DuBOIS — Veterans Day means “everything” to John Fritz, of DuBois, a U.S. Air Force veteran and active member of DuBois American Legion Post 17.
“It’s a day to sit back and remember what you did, and the ones that aren’t here with us anymore, and the ones that are serving right now who can’t be here with us, having dinner, or whatever we’re doing,” said Fritz. “It’s their salute. It’s their day, and they deserve it.”
Initially, Fritz joined the U.S. Army Reserves right after graduating from DuBois High School in 1974.
“I was just ready to go and do something, find something, find myself, whatever you want to call it,” said Fritz. “I knew a lot of people who were in the reserves, and basically the weekend warrior job. I just had to put up with the four months I was going to training.”
The drills were once a month on the weekends and two weeks a year to wherever they send reservists, he said.
“I just didn’t care for it,” said Fritz. “When I was at Fort Dix for training, it’s right next to McGuire Air Force base. I saw the jets, and the guys coming and going, and I liked being around that kind of thing. I said, ‘I think I’m going to go active duty Air Force.’”
He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1976, said Fritz, noting Vietnam was just over so he went to Germany for two years.
“I actually got out for a year and a half, in 1980, then went back in again, and I retired in August of ‘97,” said Fritz, who retired as a master sergeant. “It was about 21 years overall.”
Fritz said he was a security policeman for 11 years in the Air Force.
“Then I retrained into ... you would know it as a command post. It was called command and control. You work underground, and in the dark. I did that for a little over nine years,” he said.
From 1978 until 1980, he was based in Tyndall, Florida.
“It was either time to move again, and I decided to get out and see what it was like,” he said. “Of course, I didn’t. I was militarized then, so I went back in, in February of ‘81. I went to New Mexico, Albuquerque. From Albuquerque, I went overseas again for three years, to Sembach, Germany. I think I came back in ‘84, and I went to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan. I stayed there until ‘88, and I retrained into the command post.”
Once his training was complete, he was sent back to New Mexico, same base, and then he went to Vicenza, Italy.
“I was a NATO troop. While I was over there, I got deployed twice to Croatia, for Operation Deny Flight. I was there almost four years,” said Fritz. “I think I came back in ‘94, ‘95, then went through the Pentagon and was the superintendent of the Air Force Operation Center. Then I retired in August ‘97.”
“I was due for a short tour, isolated short tour, and I knew it was coming,” said Fritz. “I would have had to leave my wife, Lori, and two kids home alone in Washington, DC. I probably would have went to Korea, so I opted out. Because then I would have had to come back, move again, and it was time to retire, I think.”
Fritz serviced vehicles at Murray’s Honda and Ford for 13 years and retired recently as an employment interviewer for CareerLink.
Since his retirement from the Air Force, Fritz, 63, has been active for nearly 22 years in the DuBois American Legion.
“Right now, I am kind of dormant,” he said.
However, he served as post commander in 2007, then district commander for two years and state vice commander 2017-18.
“My next step, which will be state commander, probably not next year, but it’ll be in three years, when it cycles through to the west again,” Fritz said. “That’s my goal, anyhow.”
Remaining active in the American Legion is very important to Fritz.
“We’re veterans helping veterans, still, and I miss it every day, just the camaraderie with the other veterans,” he said.
As often said by American Legion members, “It is more than a bar,” said Fritz.
“That there’s a lot of community involvement here,” Fritz said. “We give a lot of scholarships, we donate massive amounts of money. There’s the Boy Scouts, the Keystone Boys States, State Police Youth Week. It goes on and on — Veterans Day activities, Flag Day, all those things. We have programs, the sons, the family members are here. The Legion Riders are here, the motorcycle guys, the auxiliary.”
Membership requirements are one day of active service and one must be honorably discharged.
Part of Fritz’s ambition is to make the American Legion even greater than it is now.
“We’ve got to get the word out because the young folks in the Gulf, the ‘91 up to today, that’s a generation. We need them to come in here and take over for us. Not for the bar, but for the operation,” said Fritz. “They’re hard to get in here because they’re raising families. They don’t know what we’re about. We’re trying to get the word out. This place is run by Vietnam-era veterans, now, and we’re not going to be here that long, so we need their help to take over for us.”
Veterans Day will be observed Monday, Nov. 11, and honors all of those who have served the country in war or peace — dead or alive — although it’s largely intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices, according to the U.S. Department of Defense website.
Fritz said The DuBois American Legion will host a free breakfast for all veterans from 7-10 a.m. Monday at the post home on Liberty Boulevard.