Dan Steen

Legionnaire of the Month

Here is another Vietnam veteran story, thanks to a tip from a fellow legion member. The next American Legion member we will feature is relatively new to the Garretson community and Post 23. Dan and his wife, Tricia moved to Garretson in June 2015.

Dan was born in Carroll, Iowa in 1948. He grew up on an acreage outside the small town of Elk Horn, Iowa. His father owned Steen Produce and Feed, a feed, seed, fertilizer and farm chemical store. The family also raised livestock.

Dan comes from a military oriented family. His father was a WWII Air Corps veteran. His older brother a Marine sniper in Vietnam. This brother’s daughter and son were also in the Marine’s during Desert Storm. Dan has a younger brother and two sisters. Dan and Tricia have a daughter, Sarah and son, Andrew who both served in the Navy during Desert Storm. It was obvious Dan takes pride in his families’ military service and is very proud of their service to the Navy. He stated more than once, the Navy does a good job helping you gain a skill that will be helpful through your entire life.

With this brief introduction, let’s let Dan tell his story. “I graduated from Elk Horn/Kimballton HS in 1966 and attended one year of college at Dana College in Blair Nebraska. My second year I went to Iowa State but did not have a solid career direction. My cousin, who was in the Navy, talked me into seeing a Navy Recruiter and the recruiter convinced me the Navy was a good choice. I joined and the Navy gave me aptitude tests and felt my strong math skills would be well suited for a job in Aviation Electronics. In 1968 I found myself in basic training at San Diego CA. (Interestingly, Dan’s brother who was 2 years older and a college graduate was just across the fence enrolled in basic training for the Marines. Dan teasingly asked—who was smarter—me taking training in an air-conditioned classroom or my brother who was digging fox holes in the hot California sun)?

After San Diego, I was sent to Jacksonville,FL for six months of training in Class A Aviation Electronic school. Upon completion I was assigned to Whidbey Island, in the Puget Sound near Seattle. I could not have had a better assignment or a more beautiful location. I was a flight line trouble shooter in a A-6A light jet bomber squadron. I had been promoted to the rank of E-5 and had only one year left to serve. I and two roommates agreed we joined the Navy to “see the world” and so we volunteered for duty to serve on the nuclear aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise off the coast of Vietnam. As a nuclear carrier, we were not allowed to dock in ports near Australia or Japan. Our only RR was in the Philippians and Singapore.

Again, my job was that of Flight Deck Trouble Shooter. We made certain the jets were ready to fly. One day I will never forget, it was a beautiful day early in 1972 as we were launching jets near Vietnam. Nothing happens slowly on the deck of the USS Enterprise. I was working with the pilot and crew starting one of our squadron jets. Without clearance, the pilot went to 100% throttle while I was standing about 12 ft. in front of the engine. The force of the engine’s suction pulled me from a standing position. I could not stop myself. Luckily only the top half of my body was pulled into the engine while my lower half was dangling outside and under the engine. The suction was so great it pulled all my tools out of my Velcro tool bag into the engine along with my head protection gear. Within seconds, two of my team members grabbed my legs. They kept me from being pulled into the engine. I remember the top of my head touching the cone of the turbine inside the engine with my hands tightly clenched over my head trying to keep them from the blades. At this point I must have blacked out due to the lack of oxygen being sucked out of me.” (Dan then shared with me what sounds like to me a near death experience. He had no fear, was in no pain and in a white cloud. He was surrounded by about 15 figures he did not recognize. Dan said there was no logical explanation for this as when he regained consciousness none of those figures were around. But he knows in his heart that the Lord felt he was not yet finished with what he needed to do on this earth.).

“I later learned the pilot kept the engine revved up until the plane captain reached into the cockpit, knocked the pilot’s hand away and pulled back the throttle. They were then able to pull me out of the engine. This is when I must have again regained consciousness (the white cloud and 15 figures were no longer present). There were just a few of my team members with me and they took me to the ship’s hospital. The doctor did not believe the story. He stated it can’t be true and it would be impossible to withstand that kind of suction without it extracting my eyes, ear drums and bursting blood vessels through my skin. This physician stated to his knowledge no one has ever survived such an incident. I required no medical care. The doctor gave me two shots of bourbon, denied my request for a third and sent me back to the flight deck to work.

Although I was all black and blue from the waist up I was ‘physically’ fine. However, my Flight Deck Chief could tell this had taken a psychological toll. I was not safe or able to function in front of those jet engines. He reassigned me to work in the maintenance shop. I was so happy to be alive. I told the two who held my legs and pulled me from the engine that when we go on R&R I’ll treat you to anything you want—steak, beer, etc. My Chief said thanks but no—“I’d rather you just go with me to church on Sunday”. I regret that I did not go. However, there is not a Sunday that goes by when I don’t think of him.

While off the coast of Vietnam I was assigned to a shore duty overseeing repairs to our aircraft wing structure. This was an easy assignment. I supervised ten fellow crew members. I would muster them into work and picked them up at the end of the day. In the meantime, I went to the base bar and tried to use alcohol to block memories. I drank so much that I became sick and had to see a doctor. After talking with me and performing tests he said I had “alcohol poisoning” and better quit drinking. I did quit until I felt better but when I started drinking again, I got sick again. So I was lucky, my body would not let me keep drinking.

When I had completed my tour of duty the Navy had a discharge interview. I was asked if I had any problems or if I was okay. I had been told if you say you have problems, they will keep you in a hospital and I wanted to go home and get on with my life—so I kept it to myself. It was not until later in life, I did seek help for PTSD. My therapist did more for me than any prescribed drugs could do. She had me repeatedly tell my story but always ended with the reassurance that it is over, it will never happen again and you no longer need to fear it.

In September of 1972 I went back to school on the GI Bill majoring in Industrial Electronics. After graduating I went to work for the US Postal Service in Des Moines as a Maintenance Mechanic performing computer trouble shooting. In 1974 I married Tricia and we wanted to start a family but did not want to raise our family in the city. We moved back closer to where we both grew up. I took a job with a type setting firm and became a supervisor. After 13 years working for that company I went back to school for Health Care Administration. I worked in the Long Term Healthcare field and eventually took the position of Commandant with the Iowa Veteran’s Home in Marshalltown, Iowa This was one of the most rewarding yet most politically frustrating positions I have held. This was a politically appointed position and my trying to remain neutral did not work. After not being re-appointed, due to political reasons by the Iowa Governor, I retired. (Caring for veterans should not be political). But I was retired only for a short time. A few months after retiring from the Iowa Veteran’s Home I was given a great opportunity to be the Administrator at the Minnesota Veteran’s Home in Minneapolis. After assisting to bring this home into federal compliance,which was the purpose I was hired to perform, I elected to retire again. My wife and I were 500 miles apart and it was a long commute to see each other every weekend.

During all of this, our son had moved to Sioux Falls to work as a South Dakota Highway Patrolman. In October of 2012, while on duty, he was assaulted and run over by a drunk driver. It is the phone call no parent wants to get. We rushed to Sioux Falls, not knowing if our son would still be alive when we arrive to the hospital. That morning, after meeting with medical staff, describing the severity of his injuries, we were asked ‘is your son an organ donor’? To condense a long story; our family, friends, citizens of South Dakota began praying. There were 135,000 prayers being said on Caring Bridge. There is such power in prayer! Initially we were told, if our son survived his injuries, we may need to find long term care placement to care for him. Due to the prayers and fine health care he received, eight weeks and two days later, dressed in his SD Highway Patrol uniform surrounded by hundreds of law enforcement officers, hospital staff and friends he walked out of the hospital on his own. Within one year, after the assault, he was able to return to full time duty.”

In June of 2015, Dan and Tricia wanted to be closer to their two grandchildren and moved to Garretson. Dan is enjoying the ‘good life’ of retirement and his hobbies include woodworking and hopefully more fishing. Although Dan has only been a member of Post 23 for a little over one year, he has been a long time member of the American Legion. Dan, we welcome you and Tricia to Garretson. On behalf of Post 23 we thank you for your dedicated service to our country and look forward to your involvement with the American Legion and our community.

Marty Luebke

Post 23 Member