The U.S. soldier who performed more prisoner-of-war raids
than any other in American history.
Galen C. Kittleson was born on August 14, 1924 in Mitchell county, Iowa, near the small farm community of St. Ansgar. He was the son of Floyd and Caroline Kittleson. He grew up on a number of different
farms; and then, after high school and a year of college, he entered military service in World War II. He became Airborne qualified and was assigned to the 503rd Regimental Combat Team in the Pacific Theater and later being selected for the Alamo Scouts, an elite reconnaissance unit.
Bronze Star Award
Story of tombstone
Clipping of his Exploits
Alamo Scouts Photo Archives
As a 19-year-old in 1943, he carried a mortally wounded comrade out of the dense New Guinea jungle. For this he was awarded the Silver Star. At a tender age, Galen Kittleson learned to face, and overcome, his deepest fears.
While he was an Alamo Scout he helped free 511 P.O.W.'s at the Cabanatuan Prison camp in the Phillipines -- men who had been on the infamous Bataan Death March. That was on January 30, 1945, as the 6th Ranger Battalion and a handful of Alamo Scouts, including Kittleson, liberated the camp.
In the fall of 1957 Galen Kittleson was in Little Rock, Arkansas, when the now famous "Little Rock Nine" integrated Central High School in Little Rock.
Also, in 1970, Galen took part in a POW raid on Son Tay, near Hanoi in North Vietnam. Unfortunately that raid did not work out, and that fact has brought great saddness to Galen.
Galen earned the nickname "Pappy," from the troops he trained at Fort Bragg -- partly because of his "age" and also because of the affection they had for him.
His age and the affection he elicited from the thousands of young troops he trained at Fort Bragg, N.C., earned Kittleson the nickname "Pappy." There were medals also: a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and other special citations of which he seldom spoke. Kittleson's military service spanned four decades and three wars -- World War II, Korea and Vietnam. At 81, Kittleson was one of Iowa's best known and most decorated soldiers.
Save 66 in
St. Ansgar -- Pfc. Galen Kittleson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Kittleson, was cited and awarded the bronze star for heroism by Lt. Gen Walter Krueger, officer commanding the 6th army in the Philippines.
Pfc. Kittleson was one of a rescue party landing in P.T. boats to liberate 14 members of a Dutch family, with 52 Javanese, who were being held by the Japanese.
The work of rescuing the 66 Dutch and Javanese was accomplished in 12 hours without loss of a man from the rescue party.
Kittleson recently was awarded the silver star by General Krueger for gallantry in action against the Japanese in Dutch new Guinea.
[Mason City Globe Gazette, Monday, January 22, 1945]
Galen returned to St. Ansgar following his discharge from the Army in 1946. He then married Darlene Bruggeman and worked as a farmer and International Harvester implement dealer. However, because the army was so much a part of him, he re-enlisted. In the army he served variously in the 101st Airborne Division, and also in the 3rd Infantry Division, and the 10th Special Forces Group in Germany. In 1967, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces in Vietnam, and later returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was selected for the "Son Tay" raid into North Vietnam in 1970 to rescue American POWs held there. In 1973 he was promoted to Command Sergeant Major of the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa, and later of the 7th Special Forces Group in Fort Bragg. Kittleson was a member of the Green Berets, serving in the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the time of his retirement in July 1978.
When Galen retired, his beloved troops bronzed his beret before Kittleson returned to his rural Mitchell County roots with his wife, Darlene.
In Iowa, Galen enjoyed raising Hereford cattle; but also directed a Scout Troop, known as the "Alamo Scouts," in which he attempted to challenge young men and women to tackle life's obstacles with integrity, courage and determination.
A book by former Green Beret and military journalist Charles Sasser, named "Raider" came out in 2002. The book depicts Kittleson's life as a soldier and POW raider. Sasser said in the book, "He is a hero. Everyone in Special Forces knew him. Yet almost no one outside the military knows, because true heroes like Galen do not draw attention to themselves. They just live."
Galen's great-grandfather, Knut Kittleson, along with his wife, Toni and two young sons, left Norway in 1853 bound for the United States. The two sons were lost on the trip, but another was born in Wisconsin in December of that year.
In 1854 they settled in and helped found the town of St. Ansgar, Iowa. Knut was one of the founders of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran church in St. Ansgar -- what would later become the First Lutheran Church.
Command Sgt. Maj. Galen C. Kittleson died of cancer on May 4, 2006 at
Rochester, Minnesota. He was 81 at the time of his death. His funeral was held on Monday May 8, 2006 at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Toeterville, Iowa, where he lived. The Rev. Dean Hess, of Clear Lake, Iowa, officiated. Burial was in the First Lutheran Cemetery, St. Ansgar, Iowa -- where four generations of his family are buried. At the funeral, military honors were by the Walter T. Enneberg Post #358 of the American Legion.
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers carry the casket of Galen Kittleson from the St. Peter Lutheran Church in Toeterville.
At the funeral, the song "America" played as Kittleson's casket, which was followed by family
members, entered the church. "A Mighty Fortress," a special selection of "Eternal Father," which featured verses about American military units; and "How Great Thou Art," were sung by the congregation. "The Ballad of the Green Berets" played as Kittleson's casket was taken from the church and soldiers filed out behind it.
Galen Kittleson (left-rear) in the Alamo Scouts
An eight-member color guard from the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the unit in which he was serving at the time of his retirement, carried Kittleson to his final resting place. "He is a legend in our unit," said Command Sgt. Maj. Parry Baer. "His career is well documented and his efforts in Special Forces are not forgotten. It is truly an honor to be here today."
Soldiers from across the state and nation, wearing dress uniforms and carrying Kittleson's former company banners, attended funeral and graveside services. Some of the soldiers present at the funeral served with Kittleson in Vietnam.
Reverend Dean Hess called Kittleson a "unique creation of God, a warrior and a liberator." He said Kittleson's courage and conviction went beyond human understanding. "He lived a life of enormous courage. I do not believe Galen was without fear. I believe he was courageous and he went about his missions in the teeth of fear." Hess added, "Kittleson understood that he had been "called and gifted to defend freedom. He accepted his role without fanfare or bravado." Talking about Kittleson's rescue missions, Hess said, "there is nothing more honorable than to risk one's own life for someone else."
Second Lt. Scott Kittleson, Galen's grandson, was among the many wearing a U.S. Army uniform at Galen's funeral service. He said, "I joined the service on my own accord, but I was pleased to share the experience with my grandfather. He was at my graduation ceremony when I completed officer school and received my commission." Scott Kittleson added, "It was fun to see him. He was thrilled to be on a military base again. And it was exciting every time we spoke. He was a great man."
"A poor farmer's son from Iowa, Kittleson traveled far from his roots, finding courage and faith," said his son, Lance Kittleson, an ordained minister and chaplain in the Army Reserve. "And in doing so he earned the love of his family and the respect and gratitude of a nation."
At the bottom of Kittleson's funeral program the following quote was included: "A leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do ... and like it." -- Harry S. Truman
By Kermit L. Kittleson, May 14, 2006, with material from the Mason City Globe Gazette and the Mitchell County Press.