For over one year now I have had the wonderful opportunity of working with some wonderful and dedicated people at our SCV Signal newspaper and in our Veterans community.
So, I’d like to pause here for a moment and express my deep gratitude to Mr. Chuck Champion for reaching out to meet me and enticing me to join his fine team at The Signal.
Clearly, Chuck Champion is a major supporter of our Veterans and our military. It’s been a sincere pleasure and how cool it is that I get to meet so many wonderful Santa Clarita Valley Veterans and patriotic Americans. Thank you Chuck Champion!
Word of Mouth
Often, word of mouth leads to another Veteran interview, but in this case I’ve known Dennis Witzel for as many years that I’ve been a Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 355 member here in Santa Clarita – and that’s been quite a while now.
Dennis serves as Director of Membership with the VVA and he was recently selected to become a member of SCV’s Veterans Memorial Inc., which facilitates our city’s annual Memorial Day ceremonies.
He is truly one of the nicest and most generous men that you’ll ever meet and I’m proud of having him as a friend.
Angel on my Shoulder
Dennis R. Witzel was born on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1946, in Huron, South Dakota (population 14,000), where he grew up graduating at age 17 from Huron High School on June 19, 1964.
Afterwards, he worked in a grocery store until he moved to La Puente, California in February 1965 where he landed a job driving a milk truck for Royal Dutch Dairy.
But in December 1965 he returned to his parent’s home in Huron where a “Greeting Letter” from Uncle Sam awaited him and on Dec. 14, 1965, Dennis entered the U.S. Army.
A week later, he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training, but because Dennis had taken typing classes in high school he was assigned to clerk’s school.
“There must have been an angel on my shoulder because otherwise I was headed to Vietnam as an infantry grunt,” Dennis said.
WWII Troop Ship to Nam
After clerk’s school, Dennis was sent by train to Fort Dix, New Jersey, expecting to be assigned to Germany, but no – that wasn’t to be.
Dennis and a group of his fellow soldiers formed a new unit, the 518th Adjutant General Personnel Services Company where they trained six months for their new assignment.
Afterwards, the 518th went by train to Philadelphia, then flew to Oakland, California, and boarded a WWII troop ship in October 1966.
“That was my very first ocean cruise but it was definitely not a vacation,” Dennis said.
Three weeks later, he was at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam!
Dennis spent his entire tour of duty at Cam Ranh Bay as his unit’s principle responsibility was managing financial and personnel records for every American military person who served in Vietnam; all of Vietnam.
Corporal Radar O’Reilly
Dennis became Company Clerk for the 518th and he enjoys referring to himself as “Corporal Radar O’Reilly of Vietnam” per the old TV show “Mash.”
As Dennis’ good fortune would have it, his replacement arrived in the 518th three months ahead of schedule so Dennis volunteered for a variety of base camp duties such as driving a water truck and a trash truck. Not that he had to deal with trash as other soldiers had that unpleasant chore.
His truck driving assignments were part time so each day he had plenty of time for swimming and sun bathing at Cam Ranh Bay’s beautiful beach. To this day, Dennis can hardly believe his good fortune.
Dennis read a statistic on Vietnam which reported that 20 percent of troops in Vietnam served in combat, while 80 percent served in support units. Dennis feels very fortunate for his participation in Vietnam though a bit uncomfortable that he was not a combat soldier.
Yet, he knows full well that it’s a soldier duty to perform any task issued him by his superiors, hence he remains very proud that he served his Country and his fellow soldiers locked in combat.
A Charmed Life
Dennis’ good fortune continued when his tour of duty in Vietnam ended, and, because he had less than 90 days remaining in his two year Army stint, he was Honorably Discharged with an early out at Fort Lewis, Washington, Sept. 21, 1967.
Returning back to Southern California, Dennis resumed working in an Albertsons grocery store in La Habre, as he knew that type of work very well.
Dennis met a lovely young woman and they were married in October of 1968, which lasted only 10 years, but along the way they adopted two wonderful children.
Meanwhile, Dennis had taken a job at Nestlé’s, the World’s largest food company, and there he leaned to make candy which is unbelievably fantastic.
His good fortune continued even further when he met Sheila Chovan in Nestlé’s sales department, where he worked, and it wasn’t long before they were dating and then had a quaint garden marriage in Santa Monica on Aug. 14, 1982. They’re now going on 35 years.
Dennis and Sheila have lived in Santa Clarita since 1983.
“I’ve truly lived a charmed life,” Dennis said.
Like a Box of Chocolates
Following retirement from his long career with Nestlé’s, Dennis has been giving back to our community especially as it relates to our Veterans.
He feels strongly about supporting our local Veterans, and remains very active with the Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 355, SCV Veterans Memorial, Inc. SCV Veterans Collaborative, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars – Post 6885.
When Dennis finished serving with the U.S. Army 50 years ago he returned home and got busy pursuing his American Dream.
He simply did not have time or the inclination to carry a burden of negativity from the Vietnam War’s intense unpopularity, nor the harassment he received from those who took their frustrations out on returning Veterans.
Dennis also enjoys serving as an advisor at College of the Canyon’s Culinary Institute.
A cancer survivor, Dennis is a big supporter for “Relay for Life.”
Dennis continues an active, comfortable life with his loving wife Sheila and aside from his Veterans activities he thoroughly enjoys making chocolate candy for his friends and man is it delicious.
It’s no wonder that Dennis was inducted into NCSA’s Candy Hall of Fame in 2013.