Dean Engebretson

Legionnaire of Month

At the start of this interview I ask Dean for his “Name, Rank & Serial Number”. He rattled them all off instantly. I commented that after 70 years why he had not forgotten it. Dean replied “When you are in the tear gas chamber and take off your gas mask, you better not forget how to answer that question real fast”. (I wonder if any Vet who reads this just repeated their Serial number?)

It was on 1-11-1945, when Dean was just 18, that he got a letter from Uncle Sam, saying “We Want You”. The war was going strong and the Army needed replacement soldiers so he was sent to Camp Fanin, TX for basic training. After completing basic he selected International Code School and was sent to Ft. Benning Georgia. The day he completed training he was packing his duffle bag to ship out when he said “I heard a lot of gun fire and lots of shouting and commotion. For a moment I thought we were being attacked”. But he soon learned that everyone was celebrating—the war had ended. Dean said, “I always wondered if there was that much excitement back in Garretson”.

Although that was great news and a big relief, his orders were still top secret. He shipped out not knowing where he was going or for how long. He ended up in Seattle boarding a huge converted grain cargo ship. Dean still remembers hearing the people singing the song, “Sentimental Journey” as they got on the ship. For the next two weeks, thousands of soldiers were cramped in very tight quarters. For three days, off the coast of Okinawa, they encountered a typhoon with 70 ft waves. Dean next found himself on the typhoon damaged shores of Okinawa. Conditions were not pleasant with very wet sloppy mud everywhere, living out of a pup tent. He still recalls seeing the US Navy damage inflicted on Japanese tanks. One inch steel plating provided little protection as they were riddled with 3” holes. The Japanese had dug in all over the island and most would not surrender. There were many hiding underground so Dean was happy when he got orders to ship out again. He was next sent to Korea with an Engineering Company building roads and bridges. Two years later he was discharged but it again took two weeks at sea to return to Seattle. From there Dean took a steam engine train as far as western SD. He then took a bus on old Hwy 16 to Mitchell. In order to make the last of his journey, he hitch hiked in the back of a gravel truck to Sioux Falls.

After farming for a short time Dean became a truck driver. He also became one of the first School Bus Drivers and continued to drive bus for 51 years. Dean married Joan in 1952 and they raised 8 children. He has been an active member of Zion Lutheran Church and many other organizations. This year Dean’s Legion Membership card will read “70 years of Service”—the longest of any current member in our Post. Dean has served in many capacities, including Post Commander, County Commander and an original member of the Color Guard. He has been a Go Getter for 54 years and a member of 40&8 for 55 years. In 1964 he was “Legionnaire of the Year”. Dean commends Post 23 and his fellow Legion members for all they do for the community. The biggest changes seem to be how we have adjusted to find ways to raise the needed funds. The first fundraiser he helped with was in 1947 when they raffled off a car.

Dean has many positive memories of his military service and said he really enjoyed the USO Shows. In looking back on his military experience, Dean said “I never regretted any of it”. It has helped him to be a stronger person and has reinforced his motto “Keep Thinking Positive”. Any of us who know Dean can attest to this motto by his always present Big Smile and friendly greeting. Thanks Dean for your service and all you have done for Post 23, our country and community.