Korean War Legacy Project

Donald Dahlin


Donald Dahlin was born in South Dakota on May 27, 1945. He was drafted into the US Army in 1965 and served in Vietnam. It was a very traumatic experience for him, which led to a serious bout of depression that he was thankfully able to overcome. He came to know and appreciate a gentleman in his hometown that served in the Korean War, who he later found out was a prisoner of war. He wanted to honor his memory by sharing his story. (This is an abbreviated interview.)

Video Clips

Remembering a Hometown Hero

Donald Dahlin remembers a hometown hero, Noble Nelson. He shares his experience of knowing him most of his life but never knowing he was a prisoner of war. He describes him as being a hero but that he struggled with the recognition he received from his hometown. He proudly recalls his story that was put into a book by Mr. Nelson's loving wife. (This interview ends abruptly.)

Tags: Incheon,POW

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


D:        My name is Donald, middle initial A..  Last name is DAHLIN, Dahlin.

I:          Does that have an ethnic origin?
D:        Swede.

I:          Swede.

D:        Yeah.

I:          There are many Swedish here in South Dakota.

D:        Oh yeah.  A lot of them come from St. Louis, Kansas City to Sioux City, Iowa and then disperse out through Southeastern South Dakota.

I:          Um hm.



And are you a veteran?
D:        Yes.  I’m a Viet Nam veteran.
I:          When did you go there?
D:        I was drafted in 1965.  And I was in Viet Nam in 1966 to ’67.

I:          Uh huh.  What was your unit?
D:        I was with the 1st Infantry Division.

I:          First Infantry?
D:        Yes.

I:          And regiment, battalion?
D:        Well, Headquarters Company 3rd Brigade.

I:          Um hm.



Third Brigade.

D:        Yes.

I:          Alright.  And what is your birthday by the way?
D:        Five 27 of ’45.

I:          And were you born here?
D:        Yes.
I:          Uh huh.

D:        Born and raised and lived in the same township all my life.  The only place I ever went was Viet Nam.

I:          Tell me about the Viet Nam War.  What is it to you?



D:        It’s an emotional thing, you know.  I think anyone that’s served in the service in the military and goes off to, you know, they didn’t call Viet Nam or Korea a war.  They called it a conflict or whatever you want to call it.  But we’re still exposed to the trauma that you deal with



in the military.

I:          But nobody called Viet Nam War a conflict, right?

D:        Well, you know, they called it a lot of things, you know.

I:          For example?

D:        They didn’t want to call it a war, you know, yeah.  We all called it the Viet Nam War.

I:          Yeah.

D:        But you know, a lot of the system doesn’t recognize it as a war.

I:          Um hm.

D:        So, I,



As far as Viet Nam and what it, I guess it’s an emotional time, and it’s something that, you know, I live with every day.  And some of the things that you hear about people



dealing in the military and their service and this type of thing, I’ll be truthful.  I never believed in those things, you know, flash backs.

I:          Um hm.

D:        PTSD and those types of things until you’ve experienced them.

I:          And you have been now.

D:        Yes.  And it’s, like I say, I didn’t believe in those things.  I thought it was just a joke, you know.

I:          I still think it is.  I cannot believe that you wake up in the middle of the night.



D:        I ended up having, it’s been several years ago.  I had two weeks of just unable to cope with life in general.  And at that particular time, I’m talking about things now that we’re not supposed to be talking about, I don’t suppose, cause it’s not dealing with Korea.  But



I was watching MacNeil Lehrer News Hour, and they were telling a story, and I kept watching it.  It was supper time, dinner to some people.  But it’s supper time to me.  And I was watching this program, and it ended up saying one word, the word lackay.

I:          What?
D:        Lackay.  That’s where I was stationed with the 1st Infantry Division in the Iron Triangle.



And the story that they were relating to I had experienced.

I:          In Viet Nam?

D:        In Viet Nam.   And the wife kept hollering it was supper time.  And all I could do was, I finally got up and you know, I cried for two weeks.  Could not cope.  I called Sioux Falls here to a Viet Nam veterans help line, and all they could do was tell me not to commit suicide.

I:          Um.

D:        Things are different today, thank God.



The deal with things, and they work with you now, you know.  But that was, when I say, you talk about flashbacks and, you know, that’s just one.

I:          But still, the veterans from other recent wars, they still suffer from PTSD, and they commit suicide, right?
D:        Yeah, 22 a day.

I:          Yeah.  It’s a miserable thing that U.S. has to be involved in every war in the world, you know.

D:        Well.  And I look at the fact that the



You know, the people committed suicide and then and the numbers today, a lot of those young people had been Guard members.  They’d joined the National Guard and never expected really to ever have to go to, you know, to war.

I:          Hm.

D:        And my heart goes out to those kids.  It really does because I know how naive and, you know, the fact that I didn’t know what was coming down or what’s happening.



I never had any AIT.  They sent me from basic training to Viet Nam.  That’s where I got my AIT.  We’re not supposed to be talking about Viet Nam.

I:          No. I went to Washington, DC and met with the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Education Foundation.

D:        Yeah.

I:          And they are building a big memorial there.

D:        Yes.

I:          In the arcade.
D:        Um hm.

I:          The basement.  And the Korean government has donated five million dollars.

D:        Really.



I:          Yeah.  Korean soldiers were there.  Korean military were there with the U.S, right?
D:        Oh yeah.

I:          Do you remember that?
D:        I sure do, yeah.  They were there.

I:          Um hm.

D:        You betcha, yeah.

I:          See. That’s why it’s the legacy of the Korean War.  You helped us in 1950.

D:        Yeah.

I:          We were there with you when you were there in 1960, right?

D:        Oh yes, they were there, you know.  They came in numbers later on.  You know what I’m saying?

I:          Um hm.

D:        They were just a very few to start with.



I:          Right.

D:        And then they came in numbers.

I:          Right.

D:        Yeah.

I:          Let’s go back to the person that you are going to introduce.  Who is he, and please explain it.

D:        Well, I didn’t expect that this was gonna happen, that I was supposed to deal with trying to, he told me I was gonna have to talk for him.  And I apologize.

I:          What’s his name?
D:        Noble Nelson.

I:          Could you spell it?




D:        NOBLE Nelson, NELSON.

I:          Um hm.  And?  Who is he?

D:        Well, he’s a personal acquaintance friend of mine.  I’ve known him all my life.  But I really didn’t have a lot to do with him.  And I’m just gonna say this. I’ve known him all my life, and I didn’t know he was a POW.

I:          Hm.

D:        He has never spoke about it.



This has all been done by his wife and niece.  And his niece went to Korea as a civilian, you know, in later years.  So, that’s why she got so interested in it.  And I have another acquaintance, we’re jumping around the horn here.  I have another acquaintance who has passed away who was a gunner in the Second World War



was a POW.  And I had known him all my life.  And until the last 10 years of his life, I didn’t know he was a POW.

I:          So, tell me about him, Noble.

D:        Yeah.
I:          Is he a Korean War veteran?

D:        Yes.

I:          Do you know when?

D:        Well, I’d have to get my glasses on to see this type of stuff, you know.

I:          Tell me about what you know about him.

D:        What I know about him, very private,



very reserved.  He had troubles dealing with his life when he came back home.  He was uncomfortable with the recognition that he received in his hometown.

I:          Show his picture to the camera.

D:        Well, let me find a better picture of him here, sir.

I:          It’s okay, the first



page.  With his wife.

D:        Well, let me see here, yeah.  There’s a better picture of that here somewhere.  When they got married.

I:          When did he marry, do you know?

D:        Not without looking here.  February of ’52.

I:          He married in 1952?

D:        Yes.



I:          And he became a Korean War prisoner of war?
D:        Yes.
I:          So, I don’t know how, it was in the middle of the Korean War, 1952.

D:        Yeah.  And he had a 3 ½ old child.

I:          Oh.  So, he went to Korea late.

D:        Well yeah.  Let’s see here.



September of ’52, he must have got married in February of ’52 and was in Korea in September of ’52.

I:          Uh huh.

D:        And this article goes and shows when, you know, where he was sent.

I:          Um hm.

D:        I can’t pronounce



The word, you know.  It’s kind of like me saying lackey, and you look at it, you don’t know what it is unless you know what this here is Inchon.

I:          Inchon.

D:        Inchon

I:          Yeah.

D:        Korea is where he went in that.

I:          He was captured and in the prison?

D:        Yes.

I:          North Korea.

D:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.

D:        Front line, Warsaw Hill



is where he was captured.

I:          Um hm.

D:        And you know, most of his, you know, there was only three of them left