Vietnam vets share their stories with students

Sergeant Gary Brynjulfson’s memories as a mortar man on Ho Chi Minh Hill


Andrew Kicmol/Clarion

Students visit with Vietnam War veterans and look at the displays set up at the Truax campus on March 29

Brad Burt, Staff Writer

Honoring Vietnam veterans was the subject of the Vietnam War Veterans Day event held on March 29 at the Truax Campus. There were several displays set up with various gear and equipment used during the war, with veterans there to answer any questions people had while looking at the exhibits. Many veterans also spoke during the event sharing their stories.

Sergeant Gary Brynjulfson was a member of the 4th Infantry Division shared his mortar man story recalling as a draftee from ’67-’68.  His duty was to go out on patrols and carry the mortar sight and stakes, but never the base plate.  He was an expert gunner.

Sgt. Brynjulfson described his duty roster and guard duty responsibilities from his first of two tours in our interview.  Mortar platoons served 24 hours on and 48 hours off.  He was a squad leader.  After becoming acquainted we spoke of common items used in combat like my favorite item—the M60.  Sgt. Brynjulfson began to share his stories of what he felt were significant memories of the bombings in the Vietnam jungles.

“Jets were 150 yards at danger close intervals” stated Brynjulfson. 

The mortarman would go on to describe the effects of Napalm explosions in the jungle where he would instruct his men to “open your mouth and cover your ears.”  It was at this moment when the emotions began to become overwhelming picturing the horror of munitions explosions at close interval depth and range where “napalm suffocated his men” as he shared his Hill 875 story who recounted the event, where the storytelling of the Vietnam combat rigors were met with a sense of responsibility where the interview began to display deep emotional hardship needing to take short breaks to catch our breath.  War is something you experience and wish you could leave behind only to haunt you when you sleep at night.

Combat is an overwhelming experience of flushing the mind and body with unexpected overloads of sensory that are nearly impossible to forget.  We both paused as I began to tear up and would need a minute to pull myself together recalling personal experiences from conflict presents the feeling of existential dread when war comes to mind.   

The item of significance recalled by Brynjulfson again in our interview was the 24 hours on and 48 hours off stressing important items as a squad leader he wanted his readers to know about his story.  It was his duty as a squad leader to schedule his men along the Ho Chi Minh Trail mortar group that became a dystopian routine and a way of life.  According to Brynjulfson, Vietnam was a jungle climate that presented many nuances and guard duty was one of those items Sgt. Brynjulfson was responsible for as a squad leader.

Sgt. Brynjulfson stated, “We built up gun pits with 100 sand bags, ammo bunkers where I was with my unit for 11 months of my first draftee tour.”

  He was promoted to Sergeant where he began to recall, “I landed in country as a Private First Class. I was promoted to Specialist and within three weeks of combat duty was field promoted to Sergeant and Squad Leader.”

  He was only 20 years old, held a leadership position as a Quick Reactionary Force member who relayed information to his Commander.  Brynjulfson went on to talk about his experience overseas surviving the torrential rains during the Vietnam Monsoon season who began to share the level of extreme obstacles he would need to overcome.

“After the Monsoon started, sandbags were piled up, the difficulty to shoot rockets and mortars became extremely difficult to improve the position where the Monsoon torrential down pours brought the mission to come to a halt” the Vietnam Monsoon survivor said.

Sgt. Brynjulfson began to recount his previous story to make sure we had all the correct information when we began to proceed with talking about his second tour-his return to duty after a deadly fire fight on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  I cannot imagine what life must have been like back then witnessing the heart and soul of the 4th Infantry killed-in-action, the prisoners of war who never returned home, along with those who are still missing in action.  Hearing the event through an eye-witness changed how I viewed Vietnam forever.

Sgt. Brynjulfson served two tours who was discharged from service honorably.  Thank you for your service and for sharing your Reflections of the 4th Infantry Division stationed at the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam.