You may ask, why would I write about a non SCV resident Veteran so I’m laying it out right here. I have known Fred Gruchalla approximately six years since I first became a committee member with Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial, Inc. as Fred was already a member when I arrived on the scene. Along with our Memorial Day committee, Fred volunteers his time to a number of other SCV activities such as announcing our Independence Day (July 4th) Parade and as Master of Ceremonies of our Cowboy Festival. Fred is also a member of Newhall’s American Legion Post 507 and Canyon Country’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6885.
Work Ethic Education
Fred Gruchalla was born July 11, 1946, in Fargo, North Dakota, but grew up directly across the “Red River of the North” in Moorhead, Minnesota, graduating from Moorhead High School June 19, 1964. Interestingly, Red River of the North is America’s only river that runs north. From age 10, when not in school, Fred worked as a farm hand and shoe shine boy and during high school, he became a shoe repairman. Fred also worked at Rexall Drugstore as a sales clerk. Following high school, Fred moved to Van Nuys, California, after his best friend, Jim Ringstead, moved there and he landed a job with Rexall Drugstore before working at Fedco Department Store becoming a department manager within 14 months. Next, he worked for Cal Stores as an assistant manager.
U.S. Army Irony
Choosing to avoid being drafted and desiring to do something more significant than carrying an M-16 in Vietnam’s rice paddies, jungles, swamps, and mountains, Fred enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 11, 1966, in communications on a three year hitch. Fred has a rich family history with the U.S. Army as his maternal Grandfather Lysle Hackett served in WWI and his father and two uncles served during WWII. Fred’s Father, Louis was a B-25 Mitchell Bomber navigator and his Uncle Clyde Nolan was a B-29 Superfortress Bomber tail gunner. Plus, Fred’s brother Mike served as medic with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam and his brother Dick served during the Vietnam War. Fred took his Basic Training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, where he applied for Officer Candidate School. Fred acknowledges that he didn’t make the cut due to his poor personnel interview. Except for Fred, his entire AIT Class received orders for Germany, but because Fred had applied for OCS, he was tagged as a “hold over” and was subjected to janitorial work. Fred ironically thought, “Wait a minute. I joined the Army to do something important.”
One day during lunch at Fort Gordon’s mess hall, one of Fred’s AIT instructors asked him if he was interested in teaching which led to Fred becoming an assistant instructor in cryptography after two weeks of intense training. Soon, Fred was promoted to corporal and became a full time instructor. Meanwhile the Vietnam War was raging hence one year later on July 6, 1967, Fred arrived via commercial airliner in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. He spent three days at Bien Hoa before traveling to the 25th I.D.’s base camp at Cu Chi assigned to headquarters as an Artillery Communications Specialist, or as Fred put it, a glorified clerk. However, holding a Top Secret Classification, Fred’s responsibilities included transmitting intelligence reports, i.e., enemy locations from General Westmoreland’s staff personnel to their artillery units. Fred actually met Westmoreland in December 1967 at Cu Chi after dozens of Viet Cong 122MM rockets were captured of which Westmoreland fired several.
In September 1967, Fred had his MOS changed to Radio Teletype Operator and he went before the Non Commission Board which led to his promotion to Buck Sergeant (E-5).
Random VC Rockets and Mortars
During Fred’s Cu Chi tour of duty, he remembers far too often scrambling for bunkers to avoid the nearby Viet Cong’s random night and day rocket and mortar fire into their base camp. Fred escaped unscathed but he knows numerous soldiers were killed and wounded. It’s noted that Fred counted 163 VC rocket and mortar attacks during his 365 days there. On one occasion, the hooch next to Fred’s was destroyed by a VC rocket wounding several of his buddies. However, one of Fred’s fondest memories is that as a new replacement to his unit, his birthday fell only 5 days after his arrival and his new buddies surprised him with a birthday party, complete with a case of cold Falstaff beer.
1968 Tet Offensive
On the night of January 30, 1968, as Vietnam’s Tet Holiday commenced Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops attempted to overrun Cu Chi’s Base Camp by first lobbing in rockets and mortars and then sending in their troops. This holiday was an agreed upon truce time frame, but North Vietnamese communist leaders violated it all across South Vietnam hence Cu Chi received the brunt of a massive assault by enemy fighters. The 25th soldiers at Cu Chi knew of the Viet Cong’s elaborate tunnel system outside their perimeter, but until the early morning of January 31st, they had no idea those tunnels extended under their very feet. Viet Cong, armed with AK-47’s and satchel charges streamed out of the tunnels and
others attempted to breach Cu Chi’s perimeter concertina wire. VC forces blew up one ammunition dump, numerous Huey Helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, and wrecked Cu Chi’s air strip. Fred said, “That attack was seriously loud and extraordinarily dangerous”. That sounded like an understatement to me.
The enemy assault at Cu Chi lasted throughout the night and by the end of the next day, 25th Infantry Division troops finally silenced the communist invaders who were hell bent for leather to kill every single U.S. soldier. Prior to the Tet Offensive, in December 1967, Fred was assigned Radio Operator for the 25th Artillery Headquarters’ Tactical Operations Center for the next four months. His primary responsibility was operating their air artillery network for all air borne pilots to ensure none were shot down by outgoing artillery fire. Talk about a critical job function. Next Fred, and his buddy Dan Corvin, were assigned to take charge of the unit’s cryptography section, which required them to develop code books for the 25th Infantry Division’s radio frequencies. Fred’s tour of duty in South Vietnam ended June 30, 1968, whereby he received a 30 day leave of absence before traveling to Fort Riley, Kansas where he ultimately received his Honorable Discharge February 10, 1969.
Back in the World
After a short visit with his parents, Fred moved to San Diego, California, and worked three years as a fiber glass mold maker and designer and then he moved back to Van Nuys continuing in the same occupation designing and building spas, paddle boards, etc. But in 1975, Fred started his own business building and selling spa air blowers and jets, which he operated for the next 12 years. In 1987, Fred started a business in the San Fernando Valley named “Valley Street Rods” and another business, “Diversified Sales Associates” which he still owns and operates to this day. Along the way, Fred became passionate with photography and has volunteered for numerous Veteran related activities. But his pride and joy is teaching country and western dancing. In fact in 1997, Fred won Salt Lake City’s International World Championship in Country and Western Dancing. As for Fred’s love life, he’s had many lady friends over the years and says he’s presently not seeking companionship, but he wouldn’t shy away if an enticing female happened into his life. Fred, it’s been a sincere pleasure knowing you as you’re truly a tremendous asset to our wonderful community.