Writing a memorial for a classmate whose death occurred nearly 40 years ago might seem like a daunting task, fraught with the risk that much that defined the man might have been forgotten, or that there might be strongly conflicting recollections by various people wanting to contribute to the memorial. Such is not the case with Pete. Peter James Lantz’s spirit is sharply defined, easily recalled, and surprisingly consistent among the memories of those who knew him. Among his friends, a common conception exists of an idealistic young man, gifted with uncommon intellect and an irreverent but self-deprecating sense of humor. He was an extremely balanced person who combined a high value for the world's aesthetic qualities with a pragmatism that knew and understood what was important in life. Underpinning everything, his sense of duty was total; his loyalty and commitment to his friends, his family, West Point, and his country was uncompromising.
Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae. This somewhat pompously titled poem was Pete’s favorite. He described it simply as Cynara. It didn’t take a long acquaintanceship with Pete to learn of his love for the literary arts, particularly poetry. The poem, written in the late 1800s by Ernest Dowson, is written in verses each ending with the refrain: “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.” No one knows the precise reasons why Pete was attracted to this poem, but the repeating refrain in the poem suggests unwavering commitment, unfettered and unsullied by distraction and method. No one who knew Pete could ever doubt his commitment to excellence in all he did, and neither could they ever doubt his willingness to vary from convention. As a student, as a cadet, and as a soldier, Pete sought and achieved excellence. As the protagonist in Dowson’s poem remained faithful, apparently while skirting convention, Pete was willing to discard prescriptive processes while attaining worthy goals that shone with excellence. The emergent pattern brought him honors and recognition at Orlando’s Colonial High School, sustained him through his cadet years at West Point, and distinguished his Army career, cut short on that horrible November day on Hill 875 near Dak To in 1967. He was remembered by his battalion commander as an exceptional leader. The men in his platoon remembered him as a leader they wanted to follow.
Pete is remembered by his classmates for being intellectually gifted. After an outstanding high school career, he enlisted in the Army with the goal of attending West Point. Following his enlistment and basic training, Pete was assigned to the USMA Prep School at Ft. Belvoir. His platoon consisted largely of other future members of the Class of 1966. Even at that point, Pete was emerging as a leader among his peers. Although his age and background did not set him apart from his future classmates, he was viewed with high regard for his intellect, his worldly savvy, and for his sense of humor. He was sought by others as a friend. His achievement of nearly perfect College Board scores validated his eventual presidential appointment to West Point.
Early in his Plebe year, Pete established that he was not about to be recast into any programmed, cookie-cutter identity. This, and a quick wit, helped him navigate some occurrences which might otherwise have proved disastrous. On one occasion, Pete arrived at a formation to discover, after one of those momentary stolen glances, that the sole of his shoe had separated from the upper portion of the shoe. For most plebes, this was a situation from which there was no recovery; it was only a matter of moments until an upperclassman would discover this flagrant transgression and be doomed to suffer the bile of every upperclassman in the company. Pete instantly became a ventriloquist, turning his shoe into a rebellious puppet uttering a variety of irreverent comments. It wasn’t long before the disruption that he caused in the ranks attracted the attention of the company’s command staff who, upon discovering Pete’s improvisation, joined in the humor of the occasion.
Pete’s choice of Infantry and his subsequent volunteering for combat duty in Viet Nam didn’t surprise anyone. Although a number of less rigorous, perhaps more glamorous, options were open to him, he could not have chosen any of them. His sense of duty and country called him to fulfill what he saw as a moral commitment to his countrymen, to West Point, and to all who had supported him. He truly appreciated that they had invested highly in him, and it was time to provide a return on the investment.
The choices were not easy. At the time, Pete also was committing himself to his beautiful bride and love of his life, Dagmar. As is often the case with women of strength and character, Dagmar understood and supported the choices that Pete had made. A recent immigrant from Germany, she had her own sense and appreciation of duty’s rigors and requirements. Two weeks before his death, Pete heard from Dagmar the happy news that their daughter Kristel had been born. His joy was scarcely contained as he shared the news with his comrades. The clear reflection of Pete’s spirit embodied in the lives of Dagmar and Kristel is a treasured gift to all of us.
Forty years of introspection have done little to clarify our historical perspective about the Viet Nam War or the events of November 1967 on Hill 875. Without doubt, however, the battle that occurred on Hill 875 was matched by few other battles during the war in terms of intensity and difficulty. Pete was not afforded the luxury of hindsight and speculation. His was not to debate the merits of geopolitics or ideologies; his was to do with excellence that which he was trained and motivated to do. He gave everything, caring for those with whom he was charged, leading from the front. I have been faithful to thee...in my fashion.
Mike Brown ’66, classmate
- Class of 1966
- Norm and Linda Cooney '66
- Mrs. Dagmar Lantz Lovgren
- LTC (R) John W. Rantala Jr. USAR '66
- COL James M. Salander, USA, Retired
- LTC (R) and Mrs. Douglas A. Sims '66