A lifetime of service

Rich Lennon bleeds Army green.

The U.S. Army has been a part of the Fort Dodge man’s life for 48 of his 66 years — and the retired colonel has no plans for that to end anytime soon — continuing to serve his country as commander of a rifle squad for military funerals and as a driver to take veterans to VA hospital appointments.

“My dad served in World War II and my grandpa is a veteran as well. Like them, I felt an obligation to serve my country and perform my duty,” said Lennon, who served a three-year enlistment, six years in the National Guard, 28 years in the Army Reserve and nine years as an Army contractor. “Over the years, I averaged 100 days a year with the military. I always tried to do above and beyond.”

Lennon was awarded Bronze Stars for his service in Vietnam and Iraq and had a variety of assignments — Germany and Korea among them — throughout those Army years. But he said the pinnacle was serving as commander of troops for the retirement ceremony of 5th U.S. Corps commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2006.

“I commanded 1,200 troops on the field,” he said. “There were 30-35 generals in attendance. I was a colonel giving commands to two-star generals. Here’s a guy from Fort Dodge, Iowa, supposedly a Reserve officer. It was pretty good – it shows what you can do when you put your mind to it. But I lost a lot of sleep.”

Lennon grew up in Fort Dodge, the son of Richard and Rosalie Lennon. His father worked for U.S. Gypsum for 27 years and farmed near Clare and his mother worked as a nurse at Lutheran Hospital. He has a sister, Anna Jackowell, of Fort Dodge, and three brothers — Keith, of West Des Moines; Brad, of Fort Dodge, and Greg, of Olathe, Kansas. Steve served with the Marines for seven years and was in Vietnam at the same time as Rich. Greg served two years in the Army.

The Vietnam War was in its height when Lennon graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1969. Lennon had a high draft lottery number and his friend and classmate Bill Logue had a low one, so they enlisted in summer 1970 in the Army’s buddy program in which they were ensured of staying together through basic and advanced individual training.

Lennon’s interest in mechanics as a teenager — “I had a ’59 Pontiac Catalina, 389 cubic-inch engine with three deuces…muscle cars were big back then” – led to his Army assignment in turbine engine mechanics, working on helicopters.

He soon got orders for Vietnam and his first assignment was with the First Cavalry Division outside of Long Binh at a small airfield where he worked on Cobra helicopter gunships that were constantly under enemy fire. “We always had the birds ready to go,” he said. He maintained helicopters at several other locations before his 13-month assignment came to an end in December 1972. The last five months of his three-year enlistment were as an Army recruiter in Fort Dodge.

Lennon joined the Army National Guard while working as a mechanic for Shimkat Motors and was hired by Iowa Central Community College to teach in its automotive technology program — a career of 31 years that lasted until 2008 when he retired as coordinator of the program.

He was mostly in the Army Reserve during that time and was deployed to Kuwait in 2003 in advance of the invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. His unit of 27,000 soldiers was charged with making preparations — setting up tents, offloading helicopters and tanks from ships — and providing ammunition, fuel, transportation and aviation support for the invasion and conduct of operations in Iraq. Once the invasion began, he moved to an air base at Balad, Iraq, and remained until 2004. He was deployed a second time to Iraq and then assigned for 18 months in Heidelberg, West Germany.

Lennon stayed in the Reserves until his retirement in 2007 at Fort Des Moines when he received the Legion of Merit – adding to his two Bronze Stars, four Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Medal for Vietnam service and seven Army Commendation Medals.

But he wasn’t yet through with the Army. For the next nine years, he worked as a contractor in emergency management at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. He participated in emergency management exercises in multiple Army installations throughout the country. Lennon kept an apartment in Rock Island and commuted back to Fort Dodge on weekends.

Lennon’s wife Joyce served as a captain in the Army Reserve – they’ll celebrate 25 years of marriage this November. He has a son by a previous marriage, Richard Lennon, who with his wife Tonya live in Boone and are raising three children: RJ, 8; Maggie, 6, and Daisy, 4.

Lennon is commander of the Fort Dodge VFW rifle squad that performs military honors at funeral services for 4-6 veterans a week. Once or twice a week, he drives the Disabled American Veterans van to take veterans to the VA hospital in Des Moines for medical treatment.

On his funeral service duty, he said, “You feel good on doing that — you were always told as a veteran that you will get a military funeral if you want one. It’s good to be out there and let that serviceman’s family know that we really appreciated their service.”

At home, Lennon continues his love of auto mechanics with 20 cars to restore. His restored 1954 Army jeep has been in a number of parades around the Fort Dodge area and on this Fourth of July, he will be driving it in the Gowrie Fourth of July parade.