Ed Dahlgren of Aroostook County, Maine
We then drove across the street to the Legion Hall, a low, unpretentious building across the street from the town’s bottle redemption center. A sign on the door announced that this evening was Beano night. “7 o’clock,” a sign said, and to be sure people got the message another one below it read, “That’s P.M.”
“We can make $100 a night from Beano,” Ed said. “We use it to give free meals every day. It doesn’t matter if they’re veterans or not. I’m awfully proud of this Legion.
“I think there were some men who were sorry the war was over. Leastways they harp on it enough. And there are a lot of veterans who think the country owes them a living. I don’t think so. There were quite a few Medal of Honors that came back and were set up with jobs, had houses built for them. But I had nothing given to me. I knew there were men who did as much as I did and never got a medal. A lot of times it’s who sees you. It’s being in the right place at the right time. It’s true. I think it is, anyway. “You find no Medal of Honor likes to be called a winner. We don’t think of it as something that we’ve won. But it keeps us remembering the men we served with. Even today the strongest comradeship, the only real comradeship I feel, is with men who’ve seen combat.”
“… He moved to the rear of the house and suddenly come under the fire of a machine gun emplaced in a barn. Throwing a grenade into the structure, he rushed the position, firing the weapon as he ran; within, he overwhelmed five Germans.. “
The afternoon sky is a deep blue, a sky suited to the prairies. After lunch we drive into Caribou. “To tell you the truth, I don’t come up here much,” he says. “It’s a little embarrassing. I haven’t changed that much. And I’ll be walking down the street and someone will say, ‘How are ya, Ed?’ and they’ll shake my hand and talk and I won’t know them from a hole in the ground.”
Somewhere in Caribou is a street named for Ed Dahlgren, but he doesn’t remember where it is. Some years ago there was a lot of speculation that the new Air Force Base would be named for him, but it was named instead for Ed Loring, an Air Force pilot killed in Korea.
There are smaller honors. He is the official flag raiser for Mars Hill. Last year when his hometown of Woodland had its centennial he was named Grand Marshal, and rode in the parade through the tiny town.
There are fewer farms now, on the land north of Caribou, but besides that the land is little changed. There were dirt roads years ago when Ed was a boy, and the roads are still dirt.
His father farmed 25 acres, just enough to get by. Six months before Ed was born, in the midst of harvest, his father ruptured his appendix and died. Ed’s mother sold the farm to her brother for $7,000 and took her young daughter and infant son to an apartment in Colby. They were all Swedes living in the area, and nearly all of them were related. Soon after, Ed’s Uncle John lost his wife, who was Ed’s mother’s sister. An arrangement was made. “My Uncle John had two children too, so my mother agreed to keep house for our room and board. I was five then, and I lived there until I was 21 and I can still remember the day we moved into his house as clear as if it were yesterday.”
We make a few turns and stop in front of his Uncle John’s farmhouse. It is a large house beginning a steady decline into ruin. “My Uncle John was a closed man, taciturn, he couldn’t show if he was proud of me or not. He died two years after I came home. Some children have their hands out, you know, but I never took from John. My mother used to say, ‘If you’re looking for a helping hand, look on both ends of your arms. You’ve got two,’ She died when I was in training, of cancer of the lip. When she died she had enough to bury her, that’s all.”
We drive a little way down the road. He shows me the original church. He shows me the potato house where he used to work. We go past the old school he once attended, linked to his home by a seven-mile trolley ride. “If you missed it,” he says, “it was a long walk home. Many a night I made that walk.”
We cross over into Woodland, to his mother’s father’s farm. “My grandfather Anderson had 360 acres,” he says, “but he had a lot of sons and when he died he left most of it to them,” He points out a stream he used to fish from. “Ha,” he says, “that’s Mud Brook. I used to get some big trout there.”
He is silent for a few moments. “My friends in Texas used to write to me to come down, you know. I should have gone. I would have been all set. A fellow named Wilson and I were good friends. He was a smart one. His home was Port Arthur, Texas. His people were oil people and he used to say, ‘When I go home I’m going to buy the biggest and longest Buick ever made,’ And he did. We called him Pops and we served together a long time.
“The first winter I wasn’t feeling good. Then the first thing you know I got married and started having kids right away. Before I knew it I had a flock of youngsters. It’s a lot to think about before picking up and moving out, right? Have to have something to eat, to wear. It’s probably just as well. There’s a lot worse places to live than here. Leastways we don’t have much crime. It could be Worse. Could be a lot worse.”
“… While reconnoitering another street with a comrade, he heard German voices in a house. An attack with rifle grenades drove the hostile troops to the cellar. Sgt. Dahlgren entered the building, kicked open the cellar door, and, firing several bursts down the stairway, called for the trapped enemy to surrender. Sixteen soldiers filed out with their hands in the air. The bold leadership and magnificent courage displayed by Sgt. Dahlgren in his heroic attacks were in a large measure responsible for repulsing an enemy counterattack and saving an American platoon from great danger.”