Today, I want to take a moment and honor a cousin of mine who was KIA during the Vietnam War at the age of 19. Gene was my mother’s first cousin and one of 14 kids.
Gene was born to William (Billy) and Mary nee Heaton Gietzen on March 19, 1950 in Glen Ullin, North Dakota. He had a twin brother, Glenn Gietzen, both of whom served (along with their older brother Russell) during the Vietnam war. Gene enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on September 17, 1968 in Fargo ND. He arrived in Vietnam on March 19, 1969, where he was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st MARDIV (Rein) FMF as a rifleman.
Gene was KIA on May 21, 1969 in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam as the result of “multiple fragmentation wounds” from an enemy grenade. According to the memorial wall for him on Find a Grave, “Southeast of Hill 55 near the hamlet of Chau Lau in Dien Ban District during Operation OKLAHOMA HILLS, a Marine patrol tripped a wire which was connected to a claymore type AP (anti-personnel) mine causing an explosion. PFC Gietzen was killed as a result of fragmentation wounds and two men were wounded.”
His body was recovered, and he is buried in St. Clement’s Cemetery in Haymarsh, North Dakota.
In the Bismarck Tribune’s Veteran profile on Gene’s brother, Russell, we are allowed to see something a bit more personal regarding his death.
“Russ Gietzen was in Vietnam when his brothers, Gene and Glenn, twins a year younger than himself, enlisted and were sent to the same war.
Gene Gietzen was killed in May 1969 — after stepping on a “Bouncing Betty,” a hostile explosive device — while Russ Gietzen was home. He watched a Marine officer and the pastor come into the farmyard. While he was too numb from the heavy combat he’d been in to make sense of what he was seeing, his mother and father knew immediately. He’ll always remember the sound of pain from his father at that moment of understanding.
Twin Glenn Gietzen was assigned to escort his brother’s body home to the Parish Hall in Glen Ullin, where the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion and Legion Mothers kept the body attended day and night.
He had seen his brothers once in Vietnam, when all three of them were able to be together for Easter Sunday, April 1969.“We said the rosary together, and we just visited. That was the last time I saw him,” he said.”