Harrison Township veteran formally recognized

By: Alex Szwarc | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published September 13, 2019

 Kostinko is pictured in Vietnam in 1968. He arrived in Hue,  Vietnam, in February 1968 as part of the 2nd Battalion, 27th  Marines, 1st Division, and was in the country until March 1969.

Kostinko is pictured in Vietnam in 1968. He arrived in Hue, Vietnam, in February 1968 as part of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines, 1st Division, and was in the country until March 1969.

Photo provided by Dennis Kostinko

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HARRISON TOWNSHIP — For a long time, Dennis Kostinko said he and countless other Vietnam veterans were poorly treated.

Over 50 years after he joined the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, the Harrison Township resident was formally recognized for his service to America with a medal pinning ceremony Aug. 26.

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, hosted the ceremony at the New Baltimore VFW Post. Kostinko, along with three other Vietnam veterans, was presented with honors that he earned from his time in the service.

Kostinko was given the Vietnam Service Pin.

“It feels really good to be recognized,” he said. “It feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Now people realize we did something important and did something for our country that was very important for us. We were treated so badly for so long.”

Kostinko, who turned 71 on Sept. 17, graduated from Hazel Park High School in 1966. He joined the Marines in June 1967.

“It’s important to recognize the incredible sacrifice these veterans made for our country, and the ceremony was a great way to honor and commemorate their service — especially since they were often not given the proper respect at the time,” Mitchell said.

Initially operating as a construction surveyor in America during the war, Kostinko was a rifleman in Vietnam.

He landed in Hue, Vietnam, in February 1968 as part of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines, 1st Division, and was in the country until March 1969. While in Vietnam, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion.

After he was a rifleman, Kostinko worked with M60 machine guns, then 81 mm mortars with the 1st Battalion.

West of Hue, during the Tet Offensive, Kostinko’s unit worked as a blocking detachment, making sure the Viet Cong wouldn’t attack from a certain area.

“We would secure different areas,” he said. “A lot of the time, we were out in the bush. The longest we were out in the bush before coming back to the battalion was 52 days, living off of C rations.”

The fiercest combat that Kostinko experienced was a one-day battle on May 5, 1968, east of Hue.

“It was pretty intense because we were overrun,” he said. “It was freaky, and we were under constant fire. We were a platoon of 81 mortars with two guns. There was supposed to be a Delta Company in front of us, but they were pinned down.”

The fighting began around 10 p.m. and lasted throughout the night.

“There was no perimeter and one gun was knocked out,” Kostinko recalled. “I was an A-gunner at the time, and the sergeant and I fired everything we possibly had. We were told to move back, but decided to stay there and keep on firing to protect the companies that were being attacked by the Viet Cong. We lost a number of guys on choppers.”  

Looking back over five decades later, Kostinko agrees that Vietnam veterans weren’t treated well during and soon after the war. He said he didn’t begin sharing more of his military stories until the Gulf War in 1990.

“These kids were over there for a short time. I was in Vietnam for 13 months, and people spit on us and hated us, and I asked why people don’t respect us,” he said. “After that, I let people know I was there.”

Kostinko was discharged in February 1970. He went on to have a 38-year career as a mechanical contractor, retiring in 2005. He has five daughters, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

His additional honors include a combat action ribbon, a good conduct medal and a rifle marksmanship badge.

Other Vietnam veterans honored at the pinning ceremony were Albert Janus, of Washington Township; Hermann Christoph, of Algonac; and New Baltimore resident Giovanni Zerilli.

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