Their stories and experiences are as varied as the lifelines on their hands, or the creases and furrows that time has carved into their faces.
For decades, most have said little about what they did, what they saw, “Over There.” To a one, they underestimate the value of their own place in history.
“I didn’t do anything special… I wasn’t in battle… You don’t want to talk to me,” they say.
But every veteran, we believe, has a story to tell. Every veteran, we believe, played a role that only he or she could provide.
These are the stories of just a few Fort Dodge area veterans who answered the call to serve for the cause of freedom on behalf of their nation.
Some folks jump out of airplanes to celebrate milestones in their life. Tom Dorsey jumped out of a plane on his 25th birthday on Feb. 22, 1967, but it wasn’t really his idea.
“I made a combat parachute assault into Vietnam near Tay Ninh, along with B Company and the rest of the Second Battalion, 173rd ABN,” he explains.
An experience like that must make someone grateful to have a 26th birthday.
Dorsey joined the Army in March 1965 after learning that his college deferment was up and he was about to be drafted. On the advice of family and friends with military experience, he signed up for Officer Candidate School and was assigned to a Pershing Missile Battalion in Fort Sill, Okla. And yet he wanted more.
“By November of 1966, I was getting bored with Army routine and decided since I had a lot of friends in Vietnam, that is the place I should be,” he says.
Unlike most, who had no choice, Dorsey might have avoided Vietnam had he not volunteered.
“Since my brother Steve was a helicopter mechanic with the First Cavalry, I had to sign a waiver before I would be assigned to the war zone,” he explains. “Having completed paratrooper school shortly before OCS, I made it a condition that I wanted to be assigned to an airborne unit.”
That left their parents with two sons in Vietnam at the same time.
“She was pretty nervous,” Dorsey says of his mother. “I didn’t realize it until I came home how much it affected her, but it really did.”
The two brothers met up for a day while in Vietnam, but otherwise never saw each other. While Steve spent most of his duty time on base as a mechanic, Tom was assigned to the infantry.
“We only jumped once in Vietnam, and then we had helicopter assaults, and we did a lot of marching on the ground,” he recalls. “In the jungle, you couldn’t go very far; 1,000 or 1,500 meters a day was a long march in the jungle.”
For Dorsey, the experience of his time in Vietnam has stayed with him over the years. He’s traveled to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., several times and enjoys meeting and talking with other veterans.
“I encourage people to go there; it’s a healing process,” he says.
On one trip to The Wall, he met a veteran from Tennessee who summed up the feeling of visiting the site.
“He said he just felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and I said that’s exactly what I feel when I visit that wall.”
Likewise, Payne encourages fellow veterans to attend military reunions. Even though you may not see others that you served with, those who attend share common experiences and can understand what each other has been through.
Payne returned from Vietnam knowing he had done his duty. Decades later, what’s important to him is that people recognize the service of all veterans and respect and support them for the work they do.
“I think the country has learned a lesson to support the troops, whether they resent the mission or not. A big lesson has been learned, and I think that’s the main thing.”
“Once A Marine, Always a Marine.”
More than 50 years since he exited the U.S. Marine Corps, those words still ring true for Dan Payne.
“Being in the service is completely different from civilian life, in the fact that it’s kind of no-holds-barred,” Payne explains. “The mentality it takes is entirely different.”
The Korean War was winding down when Payne graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1953. He decided to join the service shortly after graduation and had originally planned to join the navy.
“I went down to join the Navy, but they weren’t taking anybody for 30 or 40 days, and the Marines had a busload of people leaving at 11, and this was about 9:30 in the morning that I joined,” he explains. “They took us to Des Moines. We had our physicals in Des Moines, and the only clothes I had was on my back.”
Payne didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye and even had to call his dad to tell him where he had left his car and to come and take it.
After basic training at the Marine Corps Recruitment Depot in California, Payne was assigned to combat training and the First Marine Air Wing. He would spend much of his military career flying with Col. John Payne, a Silver Star recipient in Korea; Distinguished Flying Cross recipient in World War II; and a full bird colonel while still in his 30s.
“I was his machine gunner and stenographer… We were Colonel Payne and Corporal Payne,” he recalls.
While a truce had finally come in Korea, that didn’t necessarily mean that peace had come. The two flying Paynes were based in El Toro, Calif., and flew several times to South Korea for investigations into plane crashes or other matters of interest to Col. Payne.
“The misunderstanding that people have a lot of times is that when a war is over, it’s all over. It’s not over. There’s firing that takes place. It’s kind of like the old statement that there’s 10 percent that never gets the word,” he notes.
Payne is particularly moved when he recalls the sacrifice of the Chosin Few, an epic battle of the Korean War that saw tremendous losses on all sides.
“The Marine Corps at the Chosin Reservoir lost about 5,000. The Chinese lost 20,000. And the casualties in the Army and Marines was about 12,500 wounded, and many frozen. I think the Chinese had 30,000 that froze to death,” says Payne.
To Payne, educating people about the sacrifices of Korea, “The Forgotten War,” is perhaps a part of his service that continues to this day.
“We’ve had too many wars, and the Marine Corps (the oldest of all U.S. military branches) has fought in every one of them,” he notes.
As proud as he is of his Marine Corps, Payne also has great admiration for veterans of every uniform.
“I think the service helps an individual with responsibility, and I think it helps them with honor, and I think that carries on through your life,” he notes.
Like millions of Americans before and after him, military service was a road up in life for Dave Rosalez. Now a long-time small business owner in Fort Dodge, Rosalez credits much of his success to the discipline and education afforded him during his nearly three years in the U.S. Navy in the years immediately following the Korean War.
Rosalez was there to serve, but he was also there to learn.
“There are so many things that a person can learn if he applies himself,” Rosalez says. “I had good scores, and I enjoyed my work.”
Rosalez was only 17 years old, juggling both school and work, when he decided to join the Navy. At that young age, his parents had to sign to let him join, but Rosalez was eager for the opportunity, even if he didn’t know exactly what to expect.
“As it turned out, I was the only one from here going, so they sent me to Des Moines by myself to get sworn in. From there they put me on a train, told me to get off by Chicago, and then I’d go to the office and get checked in. It turned out I got in there in the middle of the night — I didn’t know where I was going, but I finally found my way around,” Rosalez recalls.
In Chicago, he headed to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center for boot camp. But while many veterans recall boot camp as a grueling time, Rosalez says it was a “vacation” for him.
“To me, it was good; I got a lot out of it,” he notes. “If you did things right, you got along good.”
Rosalez’ willingness to learn had earned him the respect of an officer who took him under his wing.
“He always smoked a cigar, and on graduation day he took one out of his pocket and gave it to me,” Rosalez recalls. “I said I didn’t smoke, but he looked at me and said, ‘Smoke it!’ ”
From boot camp, Rosalez’ next stop was aviation school in Norman, Okla., and then to Memphis, Tenn., for further training in aviation service and mechanics. Through it all, Rosalez was careful to take advantage of every opportunity offered to him to grow and be of greater service.
“It was something to me that was very enjoyable because I was learning something. I figured I could get out and get a job, and it worked out real good for me.”
Rosalez was eventually based out of Maryland but flew as far as Newfoundland to service planes and keep them flying as the world descended into the Cold War. In Newfoundland, he worked outside in frigid temperatures, but it was all part of the job to keep pilots and aircraft crew members safe.
To this day, Rosalez is humble about his service to the nation, but grateful for the opportunities afforded to him.
“It was only two years, nine months in the Navy, but I got a lot out of it,” he says with pride.