James W. Lenz is remembered by his sister Carol Rollins as a smart and helpful child, and later a popular and good looking young man, but he always had a hard time staying out of trouble.
In the year 1969 a young Lenz, of Milwaukee, faced a judge for a stealing a car and going on a joyride with a few friends, and was given a choice in his sentencing to either go to jail or join the Army. He chose the latter.
“So at the tender age of 17 he joined the service,” Rollins said. “He went off to boot camp where he excelled physically and tested out for his high school diploma without having to take any courses.”
She said that her brother had always been that way: smart, but innocently mischievous. However, he grew enormously in life before he died, and freely gave to others—listing his mother as a dependent and volunteering to go to Vietnam, where he died.
“He was a very intelligent kid and because of that he was always disrupting the class because he was bored,” she said.
“He just needed more stimulation and challenges.”
According to Rollins he had gotten into the habit of stealing not simply for the fun or to create problems, but also because their family was terribly poor and he needed food for hungry family.
She talked about one time when her brother took a loaf of bread and brought it home to their mother.
“My mother promptly walked him back to where he took it and made him apologize,” Rollins said. “He just owned up to it and took the punishment.”
Rollins said that growing up she and Lenz, only 14 months apart, did everything together.
Everything from skipping school together, very young; trying to smoke, very stupid, and just having a great time with so many wonderful memories,” Rollins said. “I still think of him daily and miss him.”
She said that later in Lenz’s life, when he was in boot camp, he matured and grew to love serving his country, and on his 18th birthday he volunteered to be deployed to Vietnam. Rollins said that his days of mischief were then behind him, but he was still the same caring person he had always been.
“He was such a good son that he listed our mother as his dependent so that he could help her out financially, something he was not required to do,” she said.
Lenz had a few week furlough from his training oversees before he was deployed to Vietnam, and that was the last time his sister, and the rest of their family would see him.
“His death was an awful experience to go through,” Rollins said. “He was loved by so many and is still very much missed.”
Another tragedy she describes is that Lenz should have been survived by a child of his own. He had two girlfriends during his furlough, both whom he impregnated, and both miscarried.
She said that her brother lived his short 18 years of life to the fullest, even through the countless hardships that her family endured.
This year, 45 years later, Rollins looks to stay close to her deceased brother as she honors him on Memorial Day when his brick will be placed in the center of the Vietnam War Memorial on the lakefront.