Locals rally to help disabled Vietnam vet get into a new home | VailDaily.com

Locals rally to help disabled Vietnam vet get into a new home

GYPSUM — Stan Koenig smiles as some combat veterans do when they talk about the time they landed in the middle of something gawdawful but came out OK. Koenig survived three tours in Vietnam, mostly in places he'd rather not recall.

He was in Delta Force, an elite Army special operations unit that specializes in hostage recovery and counterterrorism. It's the Army's version of Seal Team 6.

"In Vietnam, it didn't matter if you were black, white, yellow, Cuban, brown. It didn't matter. We all banded together for each other, because no one back home gave a damn about us," he said.

He's an Agent Orange vet, he said, and sometimes suffers from psoriasis and all sorts of other troubles.

He got to see Grenada a couple times, but not in the way tourists or medical students do.

You remember all those medical students being held hostage in that Central American country back when Ronald Reagan was president? Koenig was one of the Delta Force guys who pulled the students out of harm's way. He'll tell you about blowing a hole in a floor and boarding a transport to quietly slip away when the job was done.

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He has a Purple Heart for being shot in the hip, the only damage in 20-plus years in the military.

"I don't think I'm anything special," Koenig said.

One leg, then the other

Koenig landed in the Vail Valley, where he started a security and investigation company. Among his least glamorous but most visible work was chasing parking poachers off of Vail's Frontage Road, people trying to park for free before the parking structures are full.

Koenig, 69, is in a wheelchair these days. Diabetes did it, not combat. He lost one leg a couple of years ago, then another last Christmas.

He is as independent as the day is long. He drives his own car and says he might be buying a new truck soon.

He lived in Gypsum in an old trailer that everyone hated except him.

"It kept me warm and dry," he said.

It did create all sorts of adventures. He had to run his wheelchair up ramps backwards. If he didn't, his chair flipped.

Rallying the tribe

When he was in the hospital last December and January, losing that second leg to diabetes, a newer trailer moved in next door.

Lori Huff and Koenig became friends when Huff was working nights at the Christie Lodge and Koenig was doing security. He made a habit of making sure she got to her car at night, and was safely on her way home. That was 2003.

Huff and Koenig drifted out of each other's lives, as folks do as years roll by. But the world turned and their orbits soon intersected again.

Huff had a friend, Luke Schmidt, who needed a place to live for the summer while he was working in the valley. She had a bumper-pull travel trailer she let him use, and moved it into the space next to Koenig's in Mark Reynolds' mobile home park in Gypsum.

Schmidt got to know Koenig, as neighbors will. One day Huff was looking after something or another when she strolled around the front and came face to face with Koenig, whom she had not seen in almost a decade and a half.

"Hey I know you!" they exclaimed at the same time.

They spent some time reminiscing and catching up. They finally broached the subject of Koenig's trailer, and what it might take to improve his life and get him into Huff's.

About $5,000 is what it would take, they decided.

Koenig had the money, but he also has diabetes and a couple of other health problems. Before long, he didn't have the money.

Huff asked him if he liked the trailer and could live in it.

"I do and I can," Koenig replied.

She said if he could maintain it. If so, he could have it.

She rallied some help: They had to trench the spot for the wheelchair ramp. The skirting had to be adapted.

Schmidt pitched in. Reynolds helped, and Jack Ford helped with the skirting. Rick Ruffing lent a hand, as did several others.

"The tribe came over and helped put him together," Huff said.

Arrowhead Gas hooked up the propane tank, and then brought over a Christmas dinner as a gift. One of the Arrowhead guys knew Koenig back when he had legs.

R&H Mechanical fixed the heater. Stan ordered it and they installed it.

"Everything is going well — finally," Huff said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.