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Posted on Mon, May 30, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Ann Arbor Vietnam veteran John Kinzinger receives national recognition for volunteer work

By Janet Miller


John Kinzinger, an Ann Arbor resident and Vietnam veteran, was recently honored with the VA Voluntary Service Male Volunteer of the Year Award.

File photo | Ann Arbor News

When John Kinzinger came home from serving in Vietnam in 1967, the last thing he wanted to think about was what it meant being a war veteran. He wasn’t welcomed home, the anti-war movement was in full swing, and he wanted to get an education and move on.

But in the years leading up to this Memorial Day, Kinzinger’s attitude has turned 180 degrees: Kinzinger, who served for a year in Vietnam as a radio operator, has dedicated the last two decades to serving veterans.

Earlier in the spring, the retired Ann Arbor Ford Motor Co. engineering supervisor won the national 2010 VA Voluntary Service Male Volunteer of the Year Award, recognizing his service to the VA and more than 1,000 hours of service given to veteran patients, organizing events such as the annual Christmas and Halloween bedside visits, the annual Car Show for Vets (now combined with a Welcome Home celebration for returning Iraq/Afghanistan veterans) and as one of the forces behind bringing a Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Washtenaw County.

There’s more: Kinzinger organizes a group that regularly sends care packages to U.S. military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, scouring the community for gifts to send soldiers. He’s the VA voluntary service representative for the Vietnam Veterans of America and just wrapped up five years as commander of the Ann Arbor VFW.

He’s a force behind the tandem national nonprofits Operation Never Forgotten, which promotes public service announcements such as billboards that recognize members of the military and their issues, and Operation Sports, Afield and Stream, a wounded warrior benefit. He also goes into area classrooms to talk about his experiences in Vietnam.

But perhaps most telling is Kinzinger’s willingness to be part of the Veterans Honor Guard of Washtenaw County.

Last year, he attended 110 veteran funerals, where there’s a gun salute, taps is played and an American flag is folded. By early May, he’d already attended 51 funerals. Members of the honor guard, Kinzinger said, are a dedicated group.

“There’s no pay, there’s no gas money. It’s the love of honoring your fellow vet,” he said.

When there’s an unmet need, Kinzinger is the person to call, said Beverly Leneski, chief of volunteer service at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.


John Kinzinger heaps more candy onto a pile as Lois Perrault gets ready to bag it up at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 423 in Scio Township in 2006. The care packages went to soldiers serving in Iraq.

File photo | Ann Arbor News

“He’s the go-to guy. He’s well respected and liked and organized. When we need a television or a golf cart for a program, John comes through with the fundraising,” she said. “He has a genuine love for veterans. And he takes pride in being a veteran. He believes it’s a group who deserves respect and honor and he feels it’s his mission.”

Leneski nominated Kinzinger for the award. But it wasn’t just because of his good deeds. He’s touched thousands of veterans.

“The impact, the scope of what he does, is broad. With all of his packages, all of his programs, his fundraising, he hasn’t helped just one vet. He’s helped a lot of vets,” Leneski said.

That includes the more than 2,500 care packages that have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past eight years, filled with snacks, toothbrushes, magazines and even canned ravioli — whatever Kinzinger can get people to donate. The servicemen and women appreciate the food, he said.

“There’s only so much you can do with sea rations. A can of pears of apricots can help,” he said.

But there’s also the message a package sends.

“It’s reassuring that someone back home cares about you. It’s a morale booster. I know what a care package can do,” Kinzinger said.

His mother would send him packages: “I’d get cans of bacon and fry it in a coffee can lid. It was so salty. But it beat sea rations,” he said.

It took Kinzinger almost 20 years to begin thinking about his time in Vietnam and what it meant to be a veteran, he said.

“By 1986, I started to feel, maybe being a Vietnam veteran wasn’t a bad thing," he said. "And other Vietnam veterans, like myself, began coming out of the closet. The idea of serving in Vietnam put you in a special group.”

Janet Miller is a freelance reporter for



Mon, May 30, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

My brother David McKenzie died in Veitnam in 1965. John visited and did many, many things over the years to help my parents including staying in contact with my Mom today who is living in a Memory Residence. His kindness and consideration to them was always a great comfort and an example of the grace that occurs in the face of adversity. He also was a key influence in creating the Vietnam Memorial in Washtenaw County which honors my brother and is a beutiful and peaceful place to visit and remember. Thank you John for all you have done for my family and all the others -- we were all so glad to see that you were honored with this recognition. Best Always.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

John- you are a true inspiration! This was a wonderful story. Thank you for all that you do and all that you are.

John B.

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

Wow. I am humbled by how much Mr. Kinzinger has accomplished since returning from his service to our nation. Sir, you inspire me to be a better person!


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

Thank you for your service, John both at home and in Viet Nam. Although it seems that a lot of people are ungrateful for your sacrifice, please know there are also a lot of people that are thankful for the job you did there and grateful you made it home.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

I've had the privilege of working a few "packing" parties with John to get care packages over to the troops. They are so well organized that we keep setting new records for efficiency. John inspires so many people because he is the kind of leader people follow willingly. If you have things to donate or if you can help towards postage in sending the packages over please do so. We don't get a break in postage and the donations really help. Thanks for all you do John!

Jeff Renner

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

C-rations, not sea rations, for combat rations.

Boo Radley

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

Thank you for your service, Mr. Kinzinger ... both in the war and here at home with everything you have done for other veterans. The way our veterans from Viet Nam were treated was a shameful period in our nation's history. I am very glad that attitudes and feelings changed and that vets such as yourself began receiving the respect and appreciation you deserve.

zip the cat

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 11:24 a.m.

Nobody welcomed me home either John. So life goes on and you make the best of what you got. If you were looking for a slap on the back for a good job done in nam you should have stayed in the service. The main thing I was interested in was that I made it home,ALIVE


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:59 a.m.

cat - looking back on those dark days of nam, I'd say that many of us are now very sorry for not giving you (and all our servicemen) the welcome back (and gratitude) you deserved. Clearly the pain cuts deep and I think it was a lesson our country will never forget. If no one has ever said they're sorry to you, then allow me. I'm glad you made it back alive.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 11:25 p.m.

Really? Have you ever met John? Have you ever done anything good for a vet? John's NEVER asked for a pat on the back. In fact he goes out of his way to stay out of view. You are way off base. I guess I was lucky. I was in squadrons where we looked out for each other. I didn't know anyone who just looked out for themselves.

John B.

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

The OP's comment is pretty typical, for him, sadly.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

I think it's the reporter's words: "He wasn't welcomed home," and not Mr. Kinzinger's words. He no doubt was welcomed home by friends and family, but he quite likely didn't expect any pomp. The fact that he dedicated so much time to helping veterans shows that he's not the type of person to gripe over whether or not he got a parade.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

Exactly where does he ask for a pat on his back?


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

What an incredibly rude and thoughtless thing to write.

Boo Radley

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

That's the best you can offer a vet who has put so much of his own time and money and his heart into helping other veterans?