Northwest Kansas veteran honored during Blackhawk combat flight
Launched in January of 2015 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), over 13,000 military troops are presently deployed to Afghanistan to serve our country as part of Operation Resolute Support. Among the troops deployed are the Task Force Fighting Eagles, 2nd Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, who are based in Afghanistan after being deployed from Fort Riley, Kan. The Fighting Eagles crew completes their flight missions by utilizing the United States Army’s primary medium lift utility transport and air assault aircraft, the UH-60L Blackhawk. During the March 4, 2017 combat mission, an American Flag aboard the crew’s Blackhawk was ceremoniously flown in loving memory of a northwest Kansas veteran with ties to the community of Norton.
Following his graduation from high school, Keith Reunitz was drafted into the United States Army, where he served our country as a missile technician in Germany. After his military service, he moved with his family to Colorado, and in 1982, moved to Kansas to work on the family farm. He later began working as a photographer and darkroom technician for the Citizen Patriot newspaper in Atwood, Kan. In 1992, the newspaper came under new ownership and was renamed the Rawlins County Square Deal. Reunitz continued as a member of the newspaper staff, working as a photographer, in the darkroom, and in circulation.
After coming under new ownership, the Rawlins County Square Deal’s pages were driven to Norton each week where they were processed, printed on the Norton Daily Telegram’s printing press, and driven back to Atwood to be placed into circulation. It was through his weekly trips to Norton that Reunitz was able to establish a great working relationship with the Telegram staff. With many similar interests and values between them, it was only a matter of time before Reunitz forged a lasting friendship with the Telegram’s darkroom technician and lead pressman, Larry Henderson. In between press runs, the two talked everything from how to process quality pictures, to family and religion, to Larry’s love of lighting and sound equipment, and beyond. Soon, Reunitz developed a similar interest in lighting and sound and began soaking up any type of knowledge he could. Together the two friends began working as partners to enhance the lighting and sound production of school programs and events across the area and logged countless miles of travel over the years. In memory of America’s Armed Forces, the duo oversaw the sound production at the Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery in WaKeeney, Kan. in observance of Memorial Day. Each year, they also ran the lighting and sound for the Rawlins County High School Show Choir’s Consort, and provided quality sound each summer at the Fourth of July celebration at the Atwood Lake.
As Reunitz’s admiration for the community grew stronger, his visits to Norton grew more frequent. If there was lighting or sound work to be done for a special community event or a town celebration, he would hop right in his vehicle to drive over from Ludell, Kan., where he resided, to help. During fair week, he could be found helping to ensure the singers sounded their best on gospel night, and he greatly enjoyed trips to Norton to enjoy vintage car shows and school musical performances. After a day’s work was done, there was nothing quite as great as sitting down at a table at Town and Country Kitchen to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a home-cooked meal.
Reunitz loved history, and all that nature had to offer. He had a special connection with animals and was very knowledgeable about his many collections of memorabilia. Two summers ago, his extensive, unique butterfly collection was admired by countless visitors at the Norton Public Library. A kind, generous, and caring person, it wasn’t long before the lives of people in the community began to be touched by Reunitz. “I try to do three good deeds each day,” he once said. For Reunitz, the goal was simple: make the world a better place. Thrifty, yet selfless, his generosity and kindness were boundless, touching the lives of countless northwest Kansans. For Reunitz, serving our Lord to the fullest meant living with little to help a fellow man during his time of need. “I can only hope to be the kind of person that Keith was to so many others,” Henderson says.
After countless good deeds performed and thousands of lives touched, Reunitz was called home on February 7, 2017. As family and friends gathered to pay their respects at Reunitz’s memorial service, the pews of the church were filled to capacity with people whose lives had been greatly touched in some way by Keith’s kindness.
With the help of a friend serving in Afghanistan, Henderson’s daughter arranged for Reunitz’s well-lived life to be commemorated in the most honorable way she knew how. Trina O’Hare, an aircraft mechanic equipped with the technical expertise and mechanical knowledge necessary to repair all areas of the UH-60 Blackhawk, was stationed in Afghanistan when she was contacted with a very special request. After her shift, O’Hare left the hangar where she was stationed to pay a visit to her good friend, Sergeant James Roache, Crew Chief for the Fighting Eagles, to see if he might be able to help assist with the request to honor Reunitz. And so, with a plan formulated, Sergeant Roache made plans to do a little something special for this veteran during the crew’s next combat flight.
On March 4, the Task Force Fighting Eagles were summoned for a combat mission, in East Afghanistan, against a group of insurgents. Flying aboard the crew’s UH-60L Blackhawk was an American Flag, ceremoniously flown in loving memory of Keith Reunitz. Gary Simmons served as the Pilot in Command of the flight, while Samuel Tardif served as Pilot. Crew Chiefs were Sean Von Holtz and Sergeant Roache.
Following the completion of their combat flight, the flight crew returned to their base, where they each added their signatures to the official certificate commemorating the successful completion of the day’s combat mission. The American Flag, certificate, and a photo of the Fighting Eagles crew were then returned home to the United States, where they arrived in Norton three weeks later.
This past Friday afternoon, members of the Norton American Legion Riders of Chapter 63 helped honor Keith Reunitz’s memory by conducting a flag folding ceremony in which Reunitz’s American Flag was folded and placed in a memorial flag case for presentation. On the afternoon of April 17th, the family of Keith Reunitz was formally presented with the American Flag and certificate during a ceremony held in Atwood. Let all who look upon this flag, the certificate reads, see it as a symbol of freedom, liberty, and reminder of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“We have a mission now,” Keith’s brother, Gordon Reunitz, said. “To follow in Keith’s footsteps.” Reunitz will be remembered as a man who not only served our great country, but who also served our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the fullest for all the days of his life. For Reunitz, life wasn’t what you take when you leave this world behind you; it was what you leave behind you when you go. What he leaves behind, for all those who were blessed to know and love him, is a legacy of dedicated service to his country and his fellow man.