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Vietnam vet kept up the fight

At 19 years old and recently graduated with a degree in aviation mechanics from Burgard Vocational High School, Al Brusetti attempted to enlist in the Air Force and the Army.

"There was no work in the area, and I wanted to continue in aviation," Brusetti said.

He received disappointing news from both branches.

"They said I was overweight. I weighed about 220 pounds, but it was from weightlifting and sports."

Though the economy was hurting, Brusetti secured a maintenance position with the county at E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital starting in 1961.

But by 1965, when Brusetti was almost 26, Uncle Sam sent him a draft notice. This time Brusetti was looking pretty good, though he was still the same weight.

"The doctor who gave me the physical said I wasn't overweight. I was 'heavily muscled.' Those words are actually in the report from the physical," said Brusetti, who still gets a chuckle from them.

The muscular soldier arrived in Vietnam in August 1966 as a member of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

From the start, he participated in "search and destroy operations," working out of a base camp in Tay Ninh.

"We started going on offensive operations, Attleboro, Junction City, Cedar Falls and some other smaller operations. We would go out into the jungles for a period of time.

"The jungle was very thick, a thick brown jungle. The vegetation was brown because of the spraying of Agent Orange. We were looking for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. The idea was to locate them and destory them."

And even though the Agent Orange defoliant was supposed to thin out the vegetation, the jungle, he said, remained dense, making it hard to spot the enemy, especially when they would fire their weapons and then retreat back into their elaborate tunnels.

Part of Brusetti's responsibilities included serving as radio operator. With that came the grim task of calling in helicopters to remove comrades who had been wounded or killed in action.

And while there were many casualties, he says U.S. troops also inflicted heavy damage on the enemy.

"We destroyed their tunnels in our missions and forced the enemy to retreat to Cambodia."

When he returned home from Vietnam, Brusetti said, he discovered another battle that needed to be fought.

"I almost immediately became a veterans' advocate fighting for the rights of Vietnam veterans. Back at my county job, I found out I didn't have the same benefits as past war veterans. I lobbied the state to give me pension credits for the time I was away, and the state refused.

"Then I went to the federal government, and the Justice Department was going to sue the state on my behalf. But before any lawsuit, they gave me my credits and anyone else that was in my situation."

He also participated in efforts to create "buy-back" legislation that allowed Vietnam veterans who eventually became government employees, with pensions through the state, to buy credits in the system for their years of military service.

But his work was unfinished.

He also helped push legislation that gives Vietnam veterans a break on their property taxes.

He says he is proud of his service in Vietnam and later his stateside service "to my fellow veterans."

And by the way, this "heavily muscled" vet is now a trim 170 pounds.

He credits Anna, his wife of 42 years, "with helping me live a healthy lifestyle."


Al Brusetti, 72

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: East Amherst

Branch: Army

Rank: Specialist 4th class

War zone: Vietnam

Years of service: Sept. 19, 1965 -- June 21, 1967

Most prominent honors: Combat Infantry Badge, Army Commendation Medal

Specialty: Infantry