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Iowa History Daily: April 16 - Galen Grethen of Emmetsburg Gives All

Iowa History Daily: On April 16, 1966, Private First Class Galen Grethen of Emmetsburg, Iowa, died attempting to treat the wounds of a platoon-mate while under enemy fire in Vietnam. Awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his heroism and courage, Galen is just one of the 869 Iowans killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Galen attended Iowa State University following his graduation from Emmetsburg High School in 1961. While in Ames Grethen joined the ROTC and fell in love with the military service. Eventually he decided to enlist in the Army and trained as a combat medic and paratrooper.. Returning to Emmetsburg after training and a stint in the Dominican Republic, Grethen left home for the last time on December 17, 1965, as he headed for Vietnam to serve Unit HHC, 2nd Battalion (BN), 502 ND Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.

Five days before his death, Grethen wrote to his parents: “We are still at our Base camp at Phan Thiet, but one platoon is moving out tonight, so I imagine we will move within the next two days. We are the first American Troops to operate in this sector, so we don’t know what we are facing.” As the platoon moved along a trail in combat formation on April 16, unexpected enemy fire hit the point man. Grethen rushed forward to attend to the injured man’s wounds, and also came under fire. Lifting the wounded soldier, Grethen started to carry the man toward safety. While he scrambled back toward safety with the injured man, enemy automatic rifle fire mortally wounded the 23 year old Grethen.

Later in the year, Grethen’s body returned to Palo Alto County for internment at Emmetsburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. Iowa State also honors PFC Grethen in the Memorial Union’s Gold Star Hall. #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD


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