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Smithsburg councilman reflects on world travel during Army career

November 12, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

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SMITHSBURG -- The speaker at Smithsburg's Veterans Day ceremony earned a Purple Heart in the Vietnam War, but as he reflected on his military career, he focused instead on learning Turkish, seeing Mount Kilimanjaro and going on an African safari.

"I don't talk about the war," retired Sgt. Maj. Dennis "Jack" Wenthe said. "It's just something I never did."

Wenthe, a Smithsburg town councilman and president of the Smithsburg Lions Club, said traveling around the world was one of the best parts of his 27 years in the Army and 12 years working for a government contractor. He described being stationed in Turkey, Italy, Germany, Korea, Tanzania, Zambia and Uzbekistan and seeing dozens of other countries.

"When I was going through this the other day, I started listing the countries I'd been in, and I stopped after I hit 54," Wenthe said. "So I've seen a lot of the world."

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Wenthe, who was born and raised in Iowa, said the Army took him to places he never would have seen if he hadn't joined the military.

"That's why I say today, every young man or woman ought to spend some time in the military," Wenthe said. "They can get a trade, you know, plus they can see some world. They'd understand how nice the U.S. is if they have to live in another country and see how they live."

For Wenthe, that realization struck particularly strongly in 1985, when he was assigned to Fort Ritchie in Cascade, a few miles from Smithsburg.

"I said where the heck's Fort Ritchie," Wenthe said, recalling asking for directions at a gas station in Sharpsburg, where the attendant didn't know where it was either.

"I come to find out, Fort Ritchie was the best-kept secret in the Army," Wenthe said. "Once you get there, you don't want to leave."

Now retired, Wenthe said he misses traveling, but continues to serve his community through his positions in the town council and Lions Club.

Before the ceremony at Veterans Park on Tuesday, Wenthe visited Smithsburg Middle School with four other veterans to speak to sixth- and seventh-graders about the significance of military service and the history of Veterans Day.

"They don't know much about veterans, to be honest with you," Wenthe said. "I don't believe it's taught anymore."

Wenthe told the students that when they see a man in a hat indicating military service, they should stop and thank him for his service.

"I told them you'll probably get the best smile you ever got," Wenthe said.

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