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24925 Szekely, Akos Dezso
March 24, 1942 - September 11, 1968

Akos Dezso Szekely   

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Personal Eulogy

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Hailing from Hungary, Akos is characterized by a fierce pride and a strong determination. The sports world knows him as a national walking champion. The Academic Department recognized him a four year Star man, but we all know him as a humorous, amiable friend. His boundless ambition and perseverance make him a sure success in his future career.

~ USMA 1964 Howitzer

Nine weeks after Mike Nawrosky died from his wounds, the fifteenth warrior of the Class of ’64 fell in combat. On 28 September 1968 the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division published General Orders Number 6813, the posthumous award of the Silver Star to Captain Akos D. Szekely. It reads as follows:

    For gallantry in action: Captain Szekely distinguished himself by heroic actions on 11 September 1968, while serving as Commanding Officer with Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry near Ben Cui, Republic of Vietnam. His unit was established in its night location when they came under intense fire from a numerically superior enemy force. Captain Szekely immediately ran to the perimeter through heavy enemy fire in order to direct his men’s suppressive fire on the insurgents. He continued to brave the fierce enemy shelling as he returned to his command post and directed counter mortar and artillery fire on the advancing enemy. With complete disregard for his own personal safety, he moved about the bullet swept area, and while engaging the enemy with his M-16 rifle, Captain Szekely was mortally wounded. His valorous actions contributed immeasurably to the successful completion of his mission and the defeat of the enemy force. Captain Szekely’s personal bravery, aggressiveness, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, the 25th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

That Akos Szekely would risk his life for his country did not surprise anyone who knew him, for he was the consummate warrior and patriot. The fact that he, an officer in the Corps of Engineers, sacrificed his life while commanding an infantry company in combat did attract considerable attention. But then again, those who really knew “Zek” could easily understand that he would unselfishly do whatever possible to help his country accomplish its mission. Even though he had already spent almost a year as an engineer company commander in the division’s Sixty-third Engineer Battalion, he extended his tour of duty in Vietnam because of the need for top-notch officers to command infantry companies. It was indeed uncommon for a non-infantry officer to be selected for such a challenging and dangerous job, but when Zek volunteered he was immediately grabbed up. It was another amazing chapter in the amazing life of an amazing person. Unfortunately, however, for Zek, it was his last chapter.

Life began for Zek on 24 March 1942 in Budapest, Hungary, where he was born into a military family. As one of four fallen warriors of ’64 who were only children, he was all his parents had. Both his grandfathers were distinguished generals in the Hungarian Army and his father was a graduate of the Hungarian Military Academy. When the Second World War ended in Europe in 1945, Zek’s father was a captain, but the family fled to Germany because they opposed the occupation of their homeland by the Russians.

While in Germany, awaiting the opportunity to go to the United States, one of Zek’s young Hungarian playmates was Huba Wass de Czege, who would also join West Point’s Class of ’64 years later. Huba recently commented: “What a great surprise to find out during “Beast Barracks” that Akos and I were classmates! We hadn’t seen each other since we left Germany because our families settled in different places in the USA. We continued our good friendship as cadets and were often together even though we were in different companies. Besides being in many of the same classes, we were both on the track and cross-country teams and belonged to the Russian Club. Akos was so gifted, mentally and physically, that it made me proud to be linked with him. He also had a great disposition and boundless energy. When I heard about his death, I felt like a part of me had been torn away. A valuable part of our army was lost that day for Akos had unlimited potential as an officer.” (Both of our class’s Hungarian Americans were outstanding cadets, officers, and leaders. Huba became one of ‘64’s general officers. What might Akos have achieved?)

The Szekely family finally arrived in the United States in 1951 and settled in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital.

Young Akos accepted the new challenge at hand. He made new friends, mastered the English language, and excelled in academics and athletics in grade school and at Montgomery Blair High School. In high school he was a member of the National Honor Society, the Mathematics Honor Society, the Key Club, and was president of the Varsity Club. Zek was the captain of the track and cross-country teams and he also played on the football, basketball, and soccer teams at one time or another. His track coach said he “had more drive and perseverance than any boy I have ever known. … This is the most outstanding young man it has been my privilege to work with. …”

During his senior year Zek began the process of competing for an appointment to West Point. He had been reading and hearing a lot about the academy and knew it was what he wanted—a strong education and the opportunity to serve his country. Representative John R. Foley, Sixth Maryland District, reported his selection from the large number of finalists with this remark: “Akos Szekely…the most unique, special, and outstanding student I ever appointed to the United States Military Academy.”

Zek adapted well at West Point—he was a soldier by instinct. He was very proud of his ancestry, but was equally proud of his newly adopted country. By his actions and speech, he displayed his loyalty and sense of duty, as well as gratitude for the opportunities the United States and West Point afforded him. He accepted discipline as one of the necessities of life and had little tolerance for anyone who complained about limitations or who indulged in self-pity.

Zek’s manner was reserved, stately, and dignified, but also intense and calculating when approaching a challenge. As a cadet he was a star performer, just as he was in high school. He ranked near the top in all of his academic courses and graduated number five in his class on 3 June 1964, and has been recognized as the highest ranking graduate of Hungarian ancestry from any of the United States Service Academies. Active and well rounded, Zek was on the Public Information Office Detail, the Debate Council and Forum, a member of the Russian Club and a letter winner on the cross-country and track teams. He also picked up the sport of long distance racewalking and took first place honors in several events, thus distinguishing himself as one of America’s best. His mentor in racewalking was another of America’s best, Ron Zinn, of the Class of ’62 and the U.S. Olympic Team. How tragic and ironic that Ron would also die in Vietnam!

Akos spent his last two years in Company I-2, a rather raucous group that shared the “lost fifties” with M-2. Dick Nowak, our football captain and All-American, was there with him and has recalled their times together: “Akos lent a dignified side of the ledger to the otherwise vulgar brawl. As I remember, he was always smiling—a rarity for the likes of myself to recognize this particular trait. He still retained a portion of his Hungarian accent on certain words, and I, as a former Polish second-generation transplant would tease him about the Central European supremacy of the Poles.

“Wayne Richard, a roommate of mine, had had Akos as a roommate earlier and recounted an interesting side of his feelings towards the 1960’s civil rights movement. Wayne was from the deep South (Alabama). Their discussions would center around Akos’ belief that such a movement was needed in order to gain what he perceived as a fundamental right under the constitution. Wayne spent many hours discussing the difficulty the South had in adjusting to what they knew was a sweeping change in the land. Akos’ concern centered on the inability of our citizens to relate to accepting this change. I suspect the freedoms that we take for granted and subscribe to, but sometimes implement slowly, caused him concern. This probably is understandable given his background in Hungary and the futile attempts of the Freedom Fighters in the ‘50s.

“Akos and I continually kidded around about track and cross-country’s long-term development for the army versus football’s role in preparation for our military careers. As far as long-term conditioning and individual stamina, I would concede he was correct. However, as far as team work and the individual within the ‘wheel,’ I argued that there was no substitute for the group working together. We probably were both right in our own ways, but unable at the time to accept each other’s views. When it as all said and done, though, Akos certainly proved to be the ultimate team player.

“I would tease him about his racewalking. Racewalking was relatively new at the time and many times in the halls I would give a caricature impression of racewalking. This, I remember, appeared funny at the time—a lumbering lineman attempting to imitate the ‘racewalker trot’ in the halls of the ‘lost fifties.’ I suspect this provided humor for all onlookers. Although racewalking was his passion, he was an excellent distance runner in cross-country as well as a one and two miler in track.

“Perhaps what I remember most about this quite reserved but friendly classmate was his willingness to help others at any time, and his feeling of passion for the importance of freedom that the USA provided. In addition, I sensed a deep concern and ‘hurt’ when the talk moved to his ethnic Hungary. Our political decisions of the 1950s, which failed to aid the Hungarian Freedom Fighters, seemed still an open would. A proud Hungarian American ‘product’ who had high standards, and still managed in a quiet way to be a part of I-2’s style, Akos was also a great American and a great friend. His death was a shock to us all, but it typified his selflessness, patriotism, and sense of duty.”

After graduation and Airborne and Ranger training, Zek was stationed in Korea for thirteen months where he eventually commanded the Fiftieth Engineer Company of the Thirteenth Engineer Battalion. In doing so, he was one of the first men in the class to command a company.

In September 1966 he entered graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and received a master of science in engineering only nine months later. During that time he also completed another special course at Harvard University and was invited to become a member of the Honorary Fraternity, Sigma Xi. While a student, he wrote, “I am aware that a good number of my friends are overseas, living in danger. Then I recall that after Massachusetts Institute of Technology my turn must surely come to live in the jungle. Over the long run, it equals out.”

And, soon enough, Captain Akos Szekely left his civilian comfort. In October 1967 he arrived in Cu Chi, South Vietnam, the home of the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division. Close by, near Ben Cui, eleven months later, Zek’s rapid, but overwhelmingly successful run through life would end. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on 26 September 1968.

Only a week later, on the fourth of October, The United States Citizens of Hungarian Descent formed a committee which established an award named after Zek. The award is described in the Congressional Record dated 21 April 1969 in a speech by the Honorable Gilbert Gude, Maryland Representative, a part of which is quoted:

The representatives of the American Hungarian Federation, the Collegiate Society of Hungarian Veterans (MHBK) and the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation in Greater Washington and the City of Baltimore decided that, in recognition of excellence in spirit, mind and body as well as demonstrated loyalty to the United States of America, an award named AKOS SZEKELY MEMORIAL MEDAL will be established.

It was also intended to perpetuate the example of Captain Szekely, who was killed in action in Vietnam, whose character traits, academic excellence and heroic death reflect the finest heritage of the Hungarian nation as well as of the Americans of Hungarian descent.

The Akos Szekely Memorial Medal is awarded those United States citizens of Hungarian descent who:

     a. were found as deserving the award because of their excellence in spirit, mind and body, and because of their demonstrated loyalty to the United States of America.

b. as citizens of the United States of America, completed their legally required or voluntarily assumed military service honorable.

c. demonstrated their adherence to the values of their Hungarian heritage.

d. are under 30 years of age. This age limit may be disregarded in instances when the prospective recipient was killed in action in defense of the United States of America or was highly decorated for heroism or other unusual form of military service.

The Akos Szekely Memorial Medal is awarded annually and is issued to the recipients in the month of October, possibly in close connection with the commemoration of the Hungarian struggle for freedom in 1956.

Another of Zek’s great admirers in this world was army track coach, Carleton R. Crowell, who wrote his obituary, ending it with the following words: “Those of us who knew Zek will never forget him, and those who are yet to become acquainted with him will forever honor him. He had a trust in mankind and a conviction that right would triumph over wrong, not because man is destined to succeed, but because he is determined to succeed.”

No nation, be it said, could have had a nobler son.

~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray

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