Combat medic behind VFW mission

“I wouldn’t take $1 million for my experiences over there (in Vietnam), but I wouldn’t give you a wooden nickel for five seconds more of them.” — Dave Granlund, 1967 Elk River High School graduate and Vietnam veteran

by Jim Boyle


When Dave Granlund was drafted in April of 1969 by the United States of America, he was filled with emotion.

The 1967 graduate of Elk River High School wouldn’t quite call it fear, but he hinted it was likely a close cousin.

Submitted photo  Lt. Col. Lyle Bradley (at right next to the Jeep) is shown here during the Vietnam War with a few comrades.
Submitted photo
Lt. Col. Lyle Bradley (at right next to the Jeep) is shown here during the Vietnam War with a few comrades.

By the time he had finished eight weeks of basic training at Fort Lewis in Seattle, Wash., plus six weeks of medic training at Fort Sam’s in Houston, Texas, and three weeks of jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., there was little apprehension left in his system when he was notified of the U.S. Army’s plans to send him to the jungles of Vietnam. All 19 years of him was ready.

“We were going to go over there and kick some butt,” he recalled of the bravado he shared with his comrades. But it never felt that glamorous once they were there.

“I wouldn’t take $1 million for my experiences over there, but I wouldn’t give you a wooden nickel for five seconds more of them,” he said.

Granlund survived his yearlong assignment in Vietnam, but he has no idea how many of his comrades that shed blood on him in the battlefield made it home.

“Once they were put on a chopper, that was the last I saw of them,” Granlund said ruefully.

The combat medic suggested their training was likely a step below that of an emergency medical technician and focused primarily on stopping the flow of blood when soldiers suffered serious wounds.

“You did whatever you could to keep someone alive, whether you were trained to do it or not,” he said.

Submitted newspaper clipping David Granlund and Edwin Specht were featured in a 1970s edition of the Sherburne County Star.
Submitted newspaper clipping
David Granlund and Edwin Specht were featured in a 1970s edition of the Sherburne County Star.

Granlund was part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the bond that formed between the men in it was hard to surpass. They called themselves “the herd.”

Hollywood has failed miserably at depicting the battlefield relationships among comrades, according to Granlund.

“There was no conflict on the team,” Granlund said. “We were so tight. We didn’t have the hostility that was shown on films. It didn’t matter if we were white or black. We were comrades.”

When news of Kent State protests reached his encampment, rage surfaced among the soldiers there.

“We were the ones over here doing what we had been asked to do,” Granlund recalled of the sentiment. “What gives them the right to tell us what we’re doing is wrong.”

Granlund once sent a picture of himself and another Elk River soldier home to mom and dad. Mr. and Mrs. Leo Granlund proudly had the picture of Granlund and Ed  Specht published in the Star News. Both had been assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and were part of the herd. The pair had run into one another after a few months in Vietnam.

Upon Granlund’s return to America, he was pleased to learn his buddy Alan James, whom he went to school with and who was drafted at the same time, had also made it home. Granlund chose the Army, and James chose the Marines.

Granlund came home changed. He stops short of saying he was “hardened,” but he admits he had the luxury of returning to small town America in his hometown of Elk River.

“It was still a small town, and I didn’t see a whole lot of the disrespect other soldiers did,” he said. “The grown-ups in town that knew you when you left welcomed you back.”

But he saw the news reports. He talked to fellow veterans in the bars. He knew of the treatment some were receiving.

“It was infuriating,” he said. “But I wasn’t involved in it.”

Granlund sees a desperate need for more education of the public as it relates to veterans of foreign wars and the like.

“We need to stop pussyfooting around it,” Granlund said of the issue of respect for veterans. “There’s a lot of people that don’t have a clue what these men and women have done for them. If it wasn’t for the military, we would be living like we were in Russia. Freedom doesn’t come cheap.”

Granlund said it has nothing to do with wanting people to bend over backwards for veterans.

“You don’t even need to recognize me,” he said. “My concern is that we don’t forget what veterans have done for you.”

Granlund has had close relatives in WWI, WWII and the Korean War. He has two children, neither of which entered the service.

Granlund didn’t encourage them to join the service, and if they expressed an interest, he wouldn’t have discouraged them from it.

He has yet to decide whether he can make it to the pit stop in Otsego on Thursday for the Ride for Healing.

The Vietnam veteran may or may not be there. It will depend on whether the Elk River man is through with his work as an electrician.

He will be fine with either outcome, but don’t confuse his melancholy attitude with a lack of support for the ride.

He’s entirely behind the state VFW commander’s effort to raise money for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund that will help build an education center.

He has been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and he called it humbling. He said he believes the education center is an important component for understanding to occur.

The names in granite are not enough, he said.

There are those who served, those who lost loved ones and those who lived through the divisive era, according to a YouTube video featured on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Webpage.

“Behind every name is a face and story,” the YouTube video on the project states.

The education center at the wall will bring these stories to life, the video states.

“It will connect future generations to the lasting impact, the profound insights and the individual heroes of the Vietnam war,” it continues.

Every visitor will be given a dog tag, according to information presented at  Each visitor will also be presented with opportunities to interact with the person whose name is on the dog tag. They can learn the soldier’s story and share in the remembrances left by friends and loved ones.

The hope is to forge a bond between the “visitor and the warrior that will have a lasting impact.

The center will also include a place designed for reflection, which tells of America’s history of conflicts from Bunker Hill to Baghdad.

More than 200,000 items have been left at the wall over the years. These items will include final good-byes, letters between loved ones,  objects of respect from brothers in arms, keepsakes from parents and a tokens left by a child for a grandparent they will never meet.

A powerful exhibit called “Coming Home” shows the coming home experience in vivid detail.

The memorial and education center aspires to make every name on the wall visible and to give a face to faceless.

“Real people are revealed,” an anonymous voice states on the video featured on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Webpage.

The voice continues: “People who shared the same hopes and aspirations that we all do. People who embody the values that make this country great.(The Education Center) will be where future generations can connect with those individuals who died for their country and ensure that their sacrifices will always be treasured and their names will never be forgotten.”

Granlund considers that to be a pretty important goal to achieve. This is especially true considering that 40 percent of the 4 million annual visitors to the Vietnam wall each year are too young to remember what was at one point the longest running war in America.