My father, Alan Dunn, was born on an island, literally and figuratively. Lummi Island sits just off the mainland of northwest Washington, and in 1927 it was an island encapsulated from the tides of change sweeping across America.
His parents settled on the island in 1925 and raised their three boys to know hard work, farming, fishing, and love of country; probably in that order.
It was no surprise, then, that when World War II broke out, the lure of a grand adventure drew Pop and most of his friends to try to enlist. His age and a minor health issue proved to be insurmountable obstacles, so he and his young friends camped out on the island's sole mountain, weapons ready, watching for the enemy to attempt a sneak attack.
In January 1951 the Selective Service, after noting that Pop had a beating heart and could "fill a cup," deemed him healthy enough for the new war. He shipped out to Fort Riley, Kan., for basic training, where they put him in field wire school. From there he went first by ship to Japan, then by a big ferry to South Korea.
His unit went in as replacements for the Army's 2nd Division, which had suffered huge losses. He volunteered to work on tanks and was assigned to a tank retriever.
With his early training of hardship and discipline on the farm, Army life was not a difficult adjustment. He has always maintained that others suffered, became heroes and were to be admired; as if he, somehow, were a spectator, not a participant.
We know from his records that he received medals, retrieved fallen soldiers from the battlefield, contracted Manchurian fever, and was in danger for much of his duty. It is only now, in his eighties, that he seems to relive those times, tearing up when he remembers the brave souls he served, and the terrible, yet grand, adventure it really was.
Below are excerpts from letters he wrote to a friend on Lummi Island during his last few months in Korea:
March 3, 1952:
"I have a new bullet proof vest and it sure makes me feel a lot more secure. Last Saturday we had two tanks that had hit mines and had to be dug out. There was a little incoming small arms and their mortar was way off, but with one of the vests on, they would practically have to drop it in your hip pocket before it could bother a person. ...
"We had a typical Lummi Island northeaster today. About 5 above and strong winds. We changed suspension units on the tank that hit the mine today, one of the few times I'd rather be in a nice warm bunker."
"The jets pulled a beautiful air strike today. I sure get a charge out of watching them peel off formation - guns hammering and when they get to the bottom of the dive they drop their napalm and pull out. I suppose I'll miss a lot of this stuff but there are things stateside I miss also."
March 27, 1952:
"The 7th (hourglass) division is moving in this sector; they are the ones who relieved us on Bloody Ridge; Munjung-ni and Prairie Valley and Yangju. ... The roads present quite a problem. Maybe we can bring the line up a ways - hope I'm to heck out of here. I practice heck instead of hell and will have to learn to leave several other words out of my vocabulary."
In October of that year he was sent back to his little island, untouched but forever changed. He had served his country well and continued to serve by being a good citizen for the next 60 years.
Books will not be written and movies will not be made of Pop's grand adventure, but perhaps his story reminds us that all veterans are heroes of sorts; just folks from their own little islands who put their lives at risk and their futures on hold for this country.
- Nancy Reilly (daughter), Blaine