Dennis Kouhns - Specialist Five
Dennis Benjamin Kouhns was born on August 3, 1946, in Ogden, Iowa. He was the much-loved only child of Ben and Mabel Kouhns and grew up amid the comfort and pleasures of life in a small Iowa town.
As a little kid, when Denny played cowboys and Indians, he liked to be the Indian! He also inherited a collection of WW2 military souvenirs from his uncle that inspired lots of backyard battle re-enactments.
As an older boy, he liked to read, make model cars, play his stereo and hunt. In high school, he was a member of the National Thespian Society and was in several plays and also served on the yearbook staff, an experience he really enjoyed. He did some carpentry work and helped his Dad, and also helped local farmers with farm work.
He was active in his church, the Zion Lutheran, and believed in the strength that faith provides.
He was the sort of person who prized the things he was given, kept things in order, and was particular about how he looked.
Very early, he picked up on his father’s interest in motorcycles and all things mechanical. He eventually owned several motorcycles, and the BSA that he bought became his most prized possession. His mother liked to tell about the time he took his motorcycle apart. She thought he’d end up with either too many parts or not enough, but everything went back together right.
He also had a vintage 1951 Chevy that had been a state trooper vehicle. Both the motorcycle and that Chevy were kept spotlessly clean and in good working order. Like a lot of garage mechanics in the 1960’s, he dropped the Chevy’s stick-shift on the column and put in a floor shift – definitely the style in the early 1960’s! In those days, the regular activity was cruising up and down Story Street in Boone, and once in a while over to Ames.
After graduating from Ogden High School in 1964, Denny attended Iowa State University for one year from fall 1964 to spring 1965 where he majored in Mechanical Technology.
He then transferred to Boone Junior College. One of his friends – Terry Selim – said the group that ran together that year was a pretty diverse bunch but they all got along. He remembered a road trip to Tulsa for a drag race – something he never would have done on his own. Terry remembered another story, too. Denny had borrowed his car. On a steep hill, a river road, he killed the engine and accidentally backed off the road, scraping the side of the car. By the time Denny returned the car to Terry, he had an estimate for repairs and the money to get it fixed.
Around this time in his life, Denny gave his heart to a girl, the only one he dated on a regular basis.
Denny’s parents invited his friends to the house often, sometimes for dinner. Denny’s Mom was like a second mother to Terry and all Denny’s friends. She was the sort of person who was a good listener – the boys could tell her anything.
A long-time friend of Denny’s, Sheryle Lester, agrees with this memory of Mrs. Kouhns. Sheryle says, “I loved Mabel Kouhns as a second mother and was privileged to stay quite often at their home. Early on Mabel was my babysitter. Later, she was the one I went to when I needed to talk. She was always there for me. And I was there for her, too.” Sheryle was very close to Denny from age four through grade school and high school – he was like a brother, always watching out for her.
Sometime during the course of the 1965 to 1966 school year at the junior college, Denny received his draft notice. He accepted that this was his duty and over the summer and early fall of 1966, he prepared to depart for training.
During that time, he suffered a broadside car accident where that floor mounted gear shift punctured his knee. When he departed for the Army, he could barely walk. But that pain was nothing compared to the devastation of the truck accident that took the life of his sweetheart shortly before he left for the service on September 19, 1966. He undertook the next chapter of his life with a very heavy heart.
Denny arrived in Vietnam near Plekiu on August 30, 1967. He was a tracked vehicle mechanic and was assigned to the 1st cavalry regiment attached to the 4th Infantry Division. Denny’s faith bolstered him as he served – he etched a cross on his helmet and ministered to other soldiers.
By early 1968, Denny had seen some rough action in an armored vehicle. He had been on 29 combat missions, when 23 were to be the limit. Close to finishing his tour, he was finally pulled back from further missions and wrote his parents, saying, “I’m safe now. All I’ll have is guard duty.”
January 30, 1968 was his third day of guard duty. His base camp came under heavy enemy attack during what came to be known as the Tet Offensive. He died from wounds inflicted by an exploding mortar. Specialist 5 Kouhns was 21 years old.
Ben Kouhns remembered his son, saying, “He was a good boy. He was manageable and never gave us any trouble. He was always very open with us.” Mabel concurred, “Whenever he was out late, when he came home, he would always shout, “I’m home” and come to the foot of our bed and we’d talk a few minutes.” From Vietnam, Denny promised his parents, “Someday I’ll give you a hundred granddaughters, but never a grandson. I wouldn’t want him to go through what I have gone through.”
Sheryle Lester says, “When Denny died that day in Vietnam, I lost my best friend. I know in my heart I'm a better person because of him. Denny was also very proud to belong to the Ogden High School Class of 1964. He was a great friend to many and loved by many.”
Denny’s close friend, Donald Walker, wrote a poem in Denny’s honor. It described him as being in the Spring of the seasons of his life. The final stanza goes this way:
Somewhere, someone hear my voice, and remember me,
And that I missed three full seasons of my life -
Live them for me, will you, those that hear and care,
live them as I would have lived them -
Because I am forever stilled.
Denny was the first Vietnam casualty from Ogden and is buried in Boone, Iowa. Ogden residents continue to maintain a flagpole and monument in his honor right in the center of town.