By Spc. Bailey Kramer, 1BCT, 1st Cav. Div. PAONovember 7, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas--"We are at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars."
President Ronald Reagan made this statement about the Vietnam War in 1964. Although Reagan claimed the Vietnamese Soldiers to be one of the most dangerous enemies, it wasn't uncommon for 'tunnel rat' Soldiers to meet face-to-face with North Vietnamese Army Soldiers.
Tunnel rats were Soldiers who volunteered to search a network of tunnels, generally pitch black, with only a flashlight and .45-caliber weapon as gear.
One American tunnel rat, Cohasset, Minn. native, Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Brian Kielpinski, completed a year-long tour in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with B Company of the 1st "GarryOwen" Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, collecting an NVA flag and an officer's belt buckle and lighter.
"Once in awhile you would find a weapons case (in the tunnels) and some were abandoned; one time they found a hospital," Brian Kielpinski said about his adventures. "The hospital had been recently abandoned, so we took a lot of the equipment for our men."
Now, 44 years later, he is donating his collection to GarryOwen, here at the 1st Cav. Div. museum, Oct. 23, believing "it's now back to where it belongs."
During one tunnel rat mission, 19-year-old Brian Kielpinski was flown in under heavy fire and while camped out he stared at an NVA flag for three days.
"Keep a look-out for me, I am getting that flag," he told his Soldiers, then proceeded to run across a rice paddy field, knock down the pole and gain possession of the flag.
"At the time, I was just glad I didn't have to look at the flag anymore," Brian Kielpinski chuckled about his success.
Returning home, he brought the mementos with him, where they went into a drawer and were forgotten about for many years.
"One time when my older brother was (visiting) I had them out and he said, 'jeez, I never knew you had all that,'" referring to the collectables Brian Kielpinski acquired during his tour.
His brother, owning a frame shop, framed and then hung them in his family office.
"All those years they sat in the drawer, I didn't think about it, then we had them framed," Brian Kielpinski continued. "I think as you age you realize things in life don't necessarily belong to you. Yeah, they are yours as material things, but there are things bigger than us as individuals."
Brian Kielpinski did not originally plan on personally donating the flag to GarryOwen, but rather donated by his son, Lt. Col. Michael Kielpinski, commander of the 1st "Head Hunter" Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
"(My son) was visiting in June and I sent the flag back to Texas with him," Brian Kielpinski said about his original plan on handing it to the deserving unit. "He kind of pushed me to do it the right way, so I agreed."
Michael Kielpinski pushed for his father's involvement when he was notified of his promotion to lieutenant colonel.
"He asked me if I would mind doing his promotion on the same day as handing over the flag, I said it would be wonderful," Brian Kielpinski said. "I am very proud of him and seeing him and what he has accomplished puts me at peace."
Understanding the importance of history to the GarryOwen family, he knew exactly where they belonged. "Just like Custer, all those little sands of history equal the whole history of 1-7 (Cav), and I thought this is part of it and should be with those troopers," Brian Kielpinski said, explaining his decision for his donation.
The historical significance was clear among all who attended, especially the recipient of the gifts, GarryOwen commander, Lt. Col. Jay Miseli.
"It's very significant to me," Miseli stated. "It's very personally rewarding as well. To see the inherent pride that exists in this squadron, not only in the troopers, but with our families and veterans."
Miseli holds a deep history with both participating units, previously serving as the Head Hunters operations and executive officer and currently the GarryOwen commander.
Working side-by-side, the two units shared a major part of each other's history. Head Hunters organized the recon mission for GarryOwen at Landing Zone X-Ray, the battle later known for the movie, "We were Soldiers."
The artifacts will be housed in the GarryOwen conference room, named for LZ X-Ray.
"Over all those years I served, I served in a lot of infantry battalions, but I'll always be a trooper and GarryOwen will always be my first," Brian Kielpinski concluded. "I have a personal attachment to the 1st of 7th, but not one to the flag. When I first got it, it felt good, but it's now home."