Posted: 5/5/2003 7:02:43 AM EDT
In every sense of the word, retired Lt. Col. Harold
A. Fritz is a hero.
As a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in
January 1969, Fritz was commanding a small
reconnaissance convoy that was ambushed by a
company of North Vietnamese troops. With most of
his vehicles aflame, both of his command tracks and
their radios knocked out, and 23 of his 28 men dead
or wounded, Fritz led his four remaining troops
against some 200-odd enemy combatants. They
slugged it out for nearly six hours before an Army
tank company managed to receive a faint hand-held
radio call for help from the beleaguered force and
respond to drive off the enemy.
When the battle was over, Fritz's contingent was
battered but intact; the North Vietnamese,
meanwhile, had lost 170 men, and more than 20 were
captured. In the process, Fritz and his men were able
to save a follow-on supply convoy that was
transporting, among other things, thousands of
gallons of highly combustible aviation fuel. Had that
convoy been struck by the North Vietnamese,
American casualties would have been horrific.
Before leaving Vietnam, Fritz would be wounded
twice in combat and earn a Purple Heart with Oak
Leaf Cluster to go along with a Silver Star and
numerous other commendations.
He retired a lieutenant colonel after 27 years in the
Army, then brought his heroic performance with him
to his home state of Illinois, where he served since
1995 as a deputy director of the state's Department
of Veterans' Affairs. According to insiders, former
and current employees, during his eight-year tenure
Fritz managed to clean up much corruption within the
agency and improved its ability to perform its
function – assisting veterans. Among other
accomplishments, he created and planned the annual
American Ex-Prisoners of War Recognition Day,
which is held every April in Springfield.
But while the days of heated combat in the dank,
sweltering jungles of Vietnam are long over, these
days Fritz is still fighting, though a much different
kind of battle with a highly elusive and crafty enemy.
It is one few people ever win, even heroes with the
nation's highest military honor.
It's a battle against bureaucracy and other
entrenched powerful political machinations. That's
how Fritz and many of his comrades see it.
For much of his tenure at Veterans' Affairs, Fritz
worked for John Johnston, a former VA director. But
early on, he said, friction developed between them to
the point that, in 1999, Johnston even went to state
police officials claiming Fritz was trying to assassinate
him. The charges were never substantiated, and Fritz
initiated a lawsuit against Johnston over the
allegations, though an appeals court dismissed his suit
last week. (He says he's planning an appeal to the
state Supreme Court.)
Despite the legal battles and other problems between
them, however, Fritz says he always maintained a
public image of professionalism, deferring to Johnston
as director of the agency and continuing to work
hard to fulfill his duties to his veteran charges. His
co-workers and others who have had dealings with
him confirm that.
Finally, Johnston was replaced by Roy L. Dolgos,
who was hired in March. The new director pumped
Fritz for status reports on the agency and relied on
him to bring him up to date on problems and issues
that needed to be addressed.
The retired colonel said he told Dolgos of lingering
issues of past corruption when Johnston was still
director. Fritz also talked of discriminatory practices –
the hiring of non-veterans as well as outright racial
discrimination – within the agency under Johnston,
and "bid-rigging" at the Anna, Ill., veterans' home, in
which Johnston allegedly gave contracts for work
there to political allies and friends. And, charges the
Peoria, Ill., native, some former soldiers who were
residents at the state's veterans' homes were
cremated and their ashes placed in ammunition cans
"This was all going on with taxpayers' money," Fritz
told WorldNetDaily in a wide-ranging interview.
Just when he thought things would finally settle
down for him at the office, Dolgos called him in April
15 and dropped a bomb on him.
"He said, 'You're fired, I have to let you go,'" said
Fritz. "Dolgos told me it was due to budget cuts." The
Medal of Honor recipient, however, believes the
firing was political.
Fritz says Dolgos fired him in an effort to cut back on
staff and save the department money, even though
other senior-level employees with fewer
responsibilities making more money have been
retained. Also, Fritz says Dolgos told him the decision
to let him go "came from the governor's office."
Finally, Fritz says he worked four years under
Johnston without a pay raise – though other
managers received annual increases – "as retaliation,"
That the governor's office would be involved is
possible, say some analysts. After all, they maintain,
Fritz was hired during a Republican governor's
tenure – Jim Edgar – and served another Republican,
George Ryan. The new governor of Illinois is
Democrat Rod Blagojevich.
"I'm sorry to see a Medal of Honor winner just get
cut out like that," Terry Woodburn, adjutant for the
American Legion State Headquarters in Bloomington,
told the Copley News Service. "It's a political job, and
unfortunately sometimes that comes with the job."
VA officials maintained his firing was due to fiscal
Fritz's firing "was a necessary cut due to our budget.
We're having a reduction in our administration,"
Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Tisdale said. She
said she couldn't comment on employees' pay scales
and had "no information" on the caliber of employee
Fritz was, but she added that another deputy
director, Dan Boatwright, also was let go "because of
With a state deficit estimated at $5 billion for this year
and next, Blagojevich has ordered state agencies to
cut overhead by 10 percent, officials said.
"Like Illinois, many states face large budget deficits.
Many of those states have resorted to the traditional
methods of solving fiscal crises: raising taxes or
slashing spending in areas that matter most like
education, health care and public safety. I refuse to
submit to those tired, old solutions," Blagojevich
wrote in an April 27 letter posted on the governor's
website, urging residents to pressure lawmakers into
approving his budget. "Asking the taxpayers to bear
the burden of years of mismanagement and waste is
simply unfair. … Instead, our budget cuts over $1.3
billion in waste and inefficiency. …"
Fritz says he's all for curbing waste and inefficiency.
Indeed, he says that's what he was doing as the
state's deputy director for the VA.
Meanwhile, current employees of the department
backed many of Fritz's charges. They also said
Johnston handed out contracts at the agency's Anna,
Ill., veterans' home to former Gov. Ryan's friends.
Further, they corroborated Fritz's allegations that
non-veterans have been hired in management
positions, and that some harassment and
discrimination claims have occurred.
An internal audit of the department by Donald
Bullerman, chief auditor for the Illinois Auditor
General's office, found the evidence of veterans being
buried in ammunition cans. Fritz says the auditor told
Johnston about it, but the VA director did nothing
One senior department official who asked not to be
identified and who worked with Fritz directly said
employees in the Chicago office had filed complaints
of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. One
female employee, the senior official said, also claimed
retaliation by senior managers after she made her
The same official also confirmed Fritz's charges that a
number of non-veterans had been hired by Johnston,
even though the agency is supposed to give
preference in hiring to veterans.
Another current senior agency official, who
requested anonymity, said Johnston "and the
governor's office [under Ryan] worked out a
contract with a company, the Tutera Group," of
Kansas City, Mo. One of the players involved in that
contract, the official said, was Donald Udstuen, once
part of Ryan's "kitchen cabinet" of close advisers, who
was arraigned in May 2002 on a host of charges
involving racketeering, kickbacks and money
In separate indictments, federal authorities charged
Lawrence Warner with rigging bids and accepting
kickbacks for secretary of state contracts – while
Ryan was holding that office – for such goods and
services as vehicle registration validation stickers,
computer systems and building leases.
Warner, a friend of Ryan's, held no position in the
government but, records say, from 1991 to 1999 he
attended office meetings and directed secretary of
state personnel regarding agency operations.
Investigators said Udstuen shared in Warner's profits
and Alan Drazek, owner of American Management
Resources, laundered payments to Udstuen, a former
top lobbyist for the Illinois State Medical Society.
Udstuen eventually cooperated with the FBI and
secretly tape-recorded a telephone call between Ryan
and a confidant in April 2002 as part of the Operation
Safe Road probe, the Chicago Tribune reported. But
investigators could never directly link Ryan's office
with official malfeasance.
Last year, Ryan said of Udstuen and Warner, "I've
known [them] for 35 years. They're friends, no
question about it. And that would be all the more
reason that I'd be outraged if I thought they were
guilty of these charges."
The senior Veterans' Affairs official said Udstuen
"was to be used as a reference" in the Anna veterans'
"This all represents mismanagement and theft on the
part of Johnston," Fritz said.
Several attempts to reach Johnston were
Paul Taplin, the agency's manger of grants and
records, spoke on the record about Fritz, describing
him as very capable individual who put his "heart and
soul" into the department.
"They let the wrong person go," Taplin told
WorldNetDaily. "I worked for Hal Fritz when he was
there, and as far as I'm concerned, they almost killed
"His heart and soul was into taking care of veterans,
or trying to, and it was just a little strange that they
would let him go over, they said, budgetary
restraints, when we have people there making more
money than him that don't have any responsibility,"
said Taplin, a 23-year Army veteran.
Others were equally complimentary.
"He's been our mainstay for the past two or three
years," Wesley Poore, a representative of the
American Ex-POW Springfield Area Chapter, told
Copley News Service.
Politics in Illinois? Why, what would Richard Daly think? [}:D]