Ron and Nancy Kreinbring, who live part-time in Fountain Hills, have made a mission for themselves to support Vietnam veterans. As part of their efforts, they work locally and in Minnesota with the Honor Quilt organization, which gifts veterans with handmade quilts for their life of service. The duo recently presented its 28th Honor Quilt to Vincent (Vinny) Brennan, a local U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and share his story below.
Vinny grew up in a typical family neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., and attended Newtown High School. He met his high school sweetheart, Kathy, who later became his wife, in biology class. With God and Country being his prime motivation, he immediately enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966. His basic training was in Paris Island, S.C. He received additional infantry training at Camp Geiger, N.C.
After that, he went on to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to attend artillery fire direction school, where he learned to coordinate artillery naval gun fire and forward air strikes. This training prepared him for deployment in South Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam in 1967 and was attached to the 1st Marine Division for his 14-month tour.
Much of his time in the field was directing fire support in-country for U.S. Marine Units, U.S. Army Units and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Infantry. He was proud of his Marine comrades and their ability to engage the enemy. To this day, he remembers the buddies lost because the men formed tight bonds and they considered one another to be brothers. You never give up support for your Marine buddies. He was injured in the battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968 and received a Purple Heart.
Vinny kept in contact with his sweetheart via many letters and even a radio relay phone call during his 14 months in Vietnam. Kathy promised to wait for him to return stateside. He did get an R and R in Japan midway through his tour.
It was a tradition in the Marine Corps, when you had 52 days left of your tour, to take a deck of playing cards, pull one out each day, and say “I have said amount of days and a wake up.” One night, unknown to Vinny, a radio transmission came into his platoon, which was holding a defensive position on a hilltop, that he was to return to the base camp immediately because he was being rotated back to the United States.
The trip back to his base camp was quite harrowing, a two-mile nighttime trek through the jungle. He arrived by daybreak with no time to say good-byes. As he left the country via Da Nang airport, he noticed the replacements coming in their new uniforms being quite a contrast to the tattered uniform he was wearing. He came to Vietnam as a fit 150-pound boy and left a weaker 120-pound man and mentally a different person.
He finished up his enlistment in Camp Lejeune, N.C., as an E-6 in 1969 and served in the Active Marine Reserve until 1973. His medals are many, but he does not dwell on them, with the possible exception of his Purple Heart.
The transition from warrior to civilian was difficult, as it was for so many. The flashbacks and other memories brought on long bouts of alcohol abuse and eventually a cure became reality due to the AA organization. Vinny has been proudly sober for 31 years because of his Marine “can do attitude.”
Missing the military, he joined the N.Y. National Guard in 1984 and was trained in logistics and aircraft fueling. He participated and helped organize the 1991 move of the 10th Mountain Division U.S. Army deployment to Saudi Arabia. His strong voice and leadership skills brought efficiency to his activities in the Reserve. His Marine training in motivation and organization brought cost savings by running operations like a private company.
In 1972, Vinny joined the First Marine Division Association because he missed camaraderie with Marines. This veterans’ organization was being led by former Marines that fought in World War II and the Korean War. He helped in the transition of Vietnam veterans becoming members. He came through the ranks of National Sergeant-at-Arms to the vice president of the East Coast and then national vice president and, eventually was elected to national president of the First Marine Division Association.
After Vinny left active duty, he held several different jobs until he joined the Fire Department of New York. He served as a firefighter for over 21 years in three different stations. As in the military, strong bonds were formed between fire personnel. He participated in hundreds of calls fighting fires and helping people in some very difficult circumstances. He loved all his work.
While serving in some of the low-income areas of the city, he dealt with a community that was not a good environment due to drugs, crimes and violence, but credits Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with cleaning up the city and making it a better place to live and work.
Then 9/11 occurred. When Vinny learned about the attack on the morning of 9/11, he realized immediately the total disaster that it was and the extreme loss of life that it would have. He had been in the Twin Towers many times for emergencies and training exercises and knew his brother firefighters would be entering the buildings. His brother, Peter, also a New York City firefighter, had responded to the alarm and had entered one of the buildings with his fire company, Rescue 4. Peter lost his life.
Because of Vinny's previous service with the counseling unit of the FDNY, he was requested to come into the city and help with the rescue and search efforts. He was assigned the task of compiling riding lists of the firefighters that responded that day. Those lists eventually became casualty and missing-in-action lists; 343 firefighters of the FDNY perished on that horrific day.
Many of the surviving firefighters worked until they were totally exhausted. Later, they became aware that they were exposed to serious hazards as they sifted through wreckage and recovered remains. The sights that Vinny saw will never leave him. His Marine training helped him deal with this difficult duty. Vinny worked down at the site (the Dig) from Sept. 2001 until Jan. of 2002 trying to counsel people and document casualty records. Losing his brother and his brother firefighters made it all the more difficult to deal with.
The love of his life, Kathy, has been his wife since 1970. They have two daughters, a son and four grandchildren. Kathy has been his ever-supportive wife, seeing him through the difficult days of his civilian transition and being a firefighter’s wife, which brings many challenges. She was a stay-at-home mother for 10 years and the anchor of the family. She eventually had her own career including editorial work, municipal worker and office manager/bookkeeper.
The daughters live in the New York area and the son continued the family tradition by serving with the U.S. Marines Corps with tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also served with the Fire Department of New York.
Kathy and Vinny have kept their New York home but also have had a home in Fountain Hills since 2003. Vinny is active with the local VFW and recently has been involved with the Hall of Flame in Phoenix, which is a firefighting historical museum. The unique connection for Vinny is the actual fire truck that his brother, Peter, responded with on 9/11. The Rescue Company 4 fire truck was damaged on 9/11 and has been restored by the Hall of Flame to its original condition on Sept. 11, 2001. That fire truck will be rededicated on August 14, 2021 at the Hall of Flame Museum in Phoenix. Vince is very proud of his connection to this museum.
In his lifetime, Vinny has met many physical and mental challenges, but his deep love of God, family and country has helped him prevail.